A natty-looking but predictable love story that’s not only in widescreen but also, for a large part, in split-screen, Dutch rookie Mark de Cloe’s “Life in One Day” borrows only the setup of the eponymous novel of ideas about a world in which everything occurs only once. Instead, de Cloe sexes up his jejune romance with slick film-school tricks that substitute for narrative surprises and onscreen chemistry. Locally, the pic was in and out of theaters, but its intriguing premise should give this a longer life on the fest circuit.
A.F.Th. van der Heijden’s 1988 novel reimagines the Platonic allegory of the cave as it describes two worlds: a perfect world in which an entire life is lived in one day and everything is intensely felt because it happens only once, and a hell akin to our own world, filled with repetition, boredom and pedestrian occurrences.
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In the perfect world, babies are born after sunrise. The kids spend the morning at school, working their way toward graduation around noon as they visibly grow older. Falling in love and lust also occurs only once, though for Benny (Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen) and Ginny (Lois Dols de Jong), both hitting 20, lovemaking is such a powerful experience that they wish to repeat it.
To this end, the lovebirds commit a murder they hope will lead to their condemnation to death and eventually to hell, where every action is repeatable. When, just over 30 minutes in, the couple find themselves in electric chairs in adjacent rooms, de Cloe switches to split-screen.
Because of a technical snafu, Benny and Ginny are unable to find one another in hell, though their paths almost cross several times. To make a living, Benny becomes a gigolo, while Ginny moves in with a couple (Egbert Jan Weeber, Terence Schreurs). A lot of tastefully photographed sex ensues.
Though they initially search for each other, Benny and Ginny quickly — too quickly to be dramatically credible — settle into their repetitive lives. The use of split-screen underlines parallel actions and the absence of one in the life of the other (much like in Jaime Rosales’ superior “Solitary Fragments”).
From the moment the couple arrive in hell, the film departs from the novel, notably in the Ginny storyline, but also in the way it heterosexualizes Benny’s story (he was a gay hustler in the novel). De Cloe’s take on the material is decidedly more mainstream.
Production design and location work in the Hague are impressive to a fault, and Lawrence Horne’s sound design credibly synchs two overlapping soundscapes. But it is Marc Bechtold’s precise editing, rather than visual composition or even dialogue, that often dictates whether attention wanders to Ginny’s or Benny’s half of the screen.