Barbara Białowąs & Tomasz Mandes’ erotic drama has a truly gross premise and oodles of bad acting to leave you hot and bothered—or just bothered.
“Imagine a strong alpha man who always knows what he wants. He is your caretaker and defender. When you are with him, you feel like a little girl.”
This is how the heroine of the Barbara Białowąs & Tomasz Mandes’ 365 Days describes her new lover. It’s a pretty telling piece of dialogue that reveals the more regressive gender politics that underlie this ostensibly sexy tale.
Based off of the book of the same name by Blanka Lipińska, 365 Days tells the story of Laura (Anna Maria Sieklucka), a Polish hotel executive in a loveless relationship on holiday in Sicily. After a fight with her boyfriend, the Sicilian Mafioso Massimo (Michele Morrone) kidnaps Laura. He reveals that five years earlier, he saw Anna on a beach right before his father was killed, and the event has left him spanning the globe looking or her. Now that he’s found her, he plans on keeping her prisoner for one year in the hope that she will fall in love with him. If that doesn’t happen, he promises to let her go.
If that synopsis grosses you out, you aren’t the only one. This is a film where a woman falls for a man who kidnaps her. He comes close to becoming violent towards her, and even he ties her up and forces her to watch him receive fellatio. Of course the premise just the teensiest bit problematic. It’s inevitable that comparisons to Fifty Shades of Grey will arise, but that’s unfair: at least Christian Grey got consent.
But maybe it’s not right to judge 365 Days as misogynistic when it’s a co-directed by a woman and based off a book by a female author (both of whom helped write the screenplay). This is a sexual fantasy, after all, and fantasies are often problematic. So, while I would like to make my objections to the premise known, I shan’t yuck anyone’s yum, and I shall instead judge 365 Days as a movie. Is it a good film?
No, it is not.
The whole point of watching 365 Days is that it’s supposed to be a sexy experience, but sex is supposed to be fun. 365 Days isn’t. It starts out fun: I spent the first hour laughing at the offensiveness of the premise, the oftentimes-bizarre acting choices, and a multitude of clichés and hacky writing. And then, at the halfway point, something changes.
Laura stops fighting off Massimo and began falling in love with him.
It’s not like I didn’t know that was coming. This is the standard formula for romance under captivity: Laura gets kidnapped, she fights with Massimo (with a few token scenes of them opening up), and then there’s some incident that causes Laura to see a different side of him. Then they fall in love. Said incident here is Massimo saving Laura from being sexually assaulted (because of course it is), even though it’ll cause tension between two mafia families. The two have another fight, Laura falls overboard from a yacht, and Massimo saves her. Finally, she gives in to him, and they have sex.
Once this happens, the film goes from so-bad-it’s-good drama to a duller-than-dust Skinemax flick with a budget. The second act is mostly scenes of the leads humping or shopping and going to parties. Anytime an antagonistic force is brought up, such as Massimo’s ex Anna (Natasza Urbańska) threatening to kill Laura, the plot point is brushed away and ignored. Likewise, most of Massimo’s gangster duties happen off-screen—I guess in an attempt to try not to make him look worse. It’s obvious that Białową and Mandes don’t want us to pay attention to anything other than the sex.
Credit where credit is due: the sex is pretty daring for non-pornographic fare, and people looking for non-explicit titillation will be pleased. Both Morrone and Sieklucka give these scenes their all, attacking each other with animalistic passion that feels very real. They know that this is the main attraction, and they aren’t afraid to give the audience what it wants.
The whole point of watching 365 Days is that it’s supposed to be a sexy experience, but sex is supposed to be fun. 365 Days isn’t.
Sadly, the sex scenes are the only times when the leads really shine, and the rest of the time their performances never go beyond serviceable. At times there’s even some truly bad acting, such as Sieklucka trying to portray a recently captured Laura as terrified. Instead, she just seems annoyed. Part of this may because they’re an Italian and a Pole who do most of their acting in English—they become much more believable when acting in their native languages—but I think it mostly comes down to the flatness of their characters.
Like most characters in a wish-fulfillment story, Laura and Massimo are one-dimensional. There isn’t anything to know about Massimo other than that he’s dominant, and there’s nothing to know to know about Laura other than that she’s feisty. As such, Morrone doesn’t have to do much other than look horny and brooding to portray Massimo. Sieklucka, on the other hand, doesn’t have to do much other than look horny and angry in the first half of the movie—and just horny in the second half. It’s uninspired, but it works.
About the only inspired part of the movie is Bartek Cierlica’s cinematography, which can only be described as “sumptuous.” Of course, this is probably due less to Cierlica’s skill (no offense), but to the fact that it’s hard to make the Italian Riviera look anything other than gorgeous. In fact, many of the shots look like advertisements, with their focus on exotic locales, gorgeous architecture, and luxury goods. The sex in 365 Days may be softcore, but it’s hardcore porn for conspicuous consumption.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the awfulness of 365 Days, the film is a big hit. It’s topped Polish box offices and made it to number 1 on Netflix at the time of writing. A sequel is in the works but has been postponed due to COVID-19. While I’m not fond of the franchise’s flagship entry, I might watch the sequel once social distancing is over. What may be a slog to watch alone in your apartment will be a lot more fun when you’re drunk with friends.
365 Days is heating up Netflix now.