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Life in a Day - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Life in a Day
Directing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Music: A-

The title of the documentary film, Life in a Day, stitched together from YouTube submissions of everyday life from all over the world, implies something all-encompassing and broadly ambitious. It certainly is the latter; the former, not necessarily quite so much so.

All submissions were recorded somewhere in the world on July 24, 2010. Whether its generally skewing toward the White West (punctuated semi-regularly by more exotic clips) and the generally more peaceable is due to proportional representation of the submissions or the inclination of the editors is not clear. Perhaps it doesn't really matter: a snapshot, after all, is devoid of all manner of context, but that doesn't make a beautiful snapshot any less beautiful.

And so it is with Life in a Day, which, combined with original music by Harry Gregson-Williams and Matthew Herbert, is beautiful indeed. And there's an aspect to this experimental concept that must not be forgotten: This is not just about daily life around the world, but what the people living those lives choose to show. Indeed, there is no one cinematographer to commend here, but rather the editors, who chose some of the most gorgeous imagery filmed in clearly amateur -- but almost always sincere -- hands. Hence, while there are a few select horrors included here (the slaughtering of a cow; fatalities at a Love Parade stampede in Germany), by and large the submissions included footage that ranges between mundane and touching.

Certainly this film underscores universal humanity. Two clips in particular stand out. In one, a young gay man comes out to his grandmother on the telephone, and although his side of the conversation is all that can be heard, his grandmother's clear support is deeply moving. In another, a dad guides his 15-year-old son through his first time shaving, showing a sweetness as a nurturing father virtually never seen on screen.

There is no straightforward narrative here, only time and themes -- and loosely adhered to even then. The film begins with people up really late at night, past midnight, the deepest depths of early morning -- and the moves into a montage of people at/on toilets or brushing their teeth. It ends with night descending, the final clip with a young woman evidently not realizing the depth of her observations regarding daily life just before the stroke of midnight. In the middle, there are segues into montages of people answering the "few simple questions" referred to in the opening title: What do you love? What do you fear? What's in your pocket? In a global context, the answers to all these questions prove consistently fascinating.

Nearly every person featured is seen only once, and almost always -- with a few notable exceptions -- quite briefly. The only person returned to repeatedly is a Korean man bicycling his way around the world, and the reason is obvious: he has an unusual insight into the diversity of the world.

But, much like the excellent 1992 documentary Baraka -- which is much more deliberate at representing both the good and the bad in the world -- Life in a Day is merely an extended series of very short vignettes. As such, it's certainly not for everyone. Many may lose their patience with it, and its intermittent penchant for showcasing the mundane. But that, really, is the point here: even the mundane can be interesting when seen in a wholly different cultural context.

And this is hardly all mundane, anyway. It's an absorbing showcase for the seemingly infinite myriad ways of living and schools of thought around the globe. We may see a touching coming-out scene one minute, but the next we see a young African man refer to homosexuality as a disease. In one scene, a young woman speaks of her fears for non-Christians who will go to hell because they aren't "saved." In another, an almost shockingly precocious little girl contemplates the implications of the possibility that God doesn't exist at all.

In a way, Life in a Day is often much like an extended music video -- but one that's actually good. There are plenty of people who would be bored by this movie (especially children), but I certainly wasn't. This is a thought-provoking and arguably even uplifting and hopeful film. It examines people being nothing more than what they are. (And yes, it focuses almost exclusively on life as it applies to people, rather than animals.) And it does so without being emotionally manipulative or treacly or political. It's simply a lovely experience, whether through laughter or through tears, both of which are bound to occur.

A right of passage occurs in the midst of the beautifully mundane in 'Life in a Day'.

Overall: B+
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