A small masterpiece of mouse-in-the-corner cinema, Dariela Ludlow’s feature docu debut, “One Day Less,” observes the quotidian yet often hilarious life shared by Ludlow’s grandparents in their Acapulco oceanfront apartment. Key to the film’s success is how it balances an amused, ironic distance with loving details, thus matching the old pair’s attitude and sensibility. A vibrant fest tour appears certain for a doc that will be embraced enthusiastically by audiences, critics and programmers, as well as specialty vid and cable outlets.
By beginning and ending on consecutive New Year’s celebrations, the film quickly establishes its concerns about the passage of time and the fleeting nature of the present moment. At ages 84 and 97, respectively, Carmen Cortes Deloya and Emeterio Deloya are all too aware of these realities, yet long past the point of lamenting them too much, even though they’re prone to counting the months until the next New Year’s visit of the entire Deloya clan.
Instead, they wisecrack and joke about it all, while poking fun at each other relentlessly. Carmen is certain that the fresh-squeezed orange juice she prepares each morning for Emeterio keeps him going, but she’s feeling “pretty damn lousy,” and he’s concerned that she’s been careless by getting a cold in the middle of summer. Yet, in a few moments, while relaxing on hammocks or puttering around the kitchen, they can launch into dialogue that tops Neil Simon for laughs per line.
Clearly, Ludlow realized she had better record her amusing and still-alert relatives before more time passes, and, as the title suggests, “One Day Less” is a kind of testimony to both the documentarian’s sense of urgency and the nature of the day-to-day lives of the elderly.
Interspersed with terrifically entertaining domestic scenes are sections that convey some of the blunt realities of growing old. Notably, at least during the period of Ludlow’s filming, Emeterio appears healthier and more active (playing his electric keyboard, a puzzle or games with the kids), despite being 13 years older. Still, it’s Carmen who prepares all the meals.
Final section reveals the large family they’ve produced, yet Ludlow (who skillfully lensed the film herself) is keen to keep the relatives in the background, while adding further context and perspective to what has been a beautiful life shared. Though this is a couple that can’t help but operate in slow-motion, no scene dawdles, and pacing is assured, care of Miguel Schverdfinger’s fine editing.