Fans of the literature of E.L James may find their inner Goddesses doing the Mazurka for Barbara Bialowas and Tomasz Mandes’ “365 Days,” a thoroughly terrible, politically objectionable, occasionally hilarious Polish humpathon currently gasping and writhing its way up the Netflix charts. Those less enamored of the arid sexcapades of Ana and Christian will find less to enjoy, and more to be grossed out by in this highly questionable take on “Beauty and the Beast,” which manages to be even more regressive than the fairytale: Imagine Beauty being OK with captivity and with the Beast killing villagers as long as he gave her a bunch of orgasms on a yacht. That said, there are enjoyable moments, albeit inadvertent ones: Couples for whom helpless laughter is an integral part of foreplay, for example, might want to try husking out quotes like “I’m gonna f— you so hard they’ll hear you scream in Warsaw.”
Like the “50 Shades” franchise, the film is based on a novel — by author Blanka Lipinska — and while the relative merits of the source material might be hard to compare for those of us not fluent in Polish, James’ books were barely in English, so let’s score that one a draw. If anything, the popularity of the unequivocally not-good “365 Days” is possibly more explicable than that of James’ publishing phenomenon, merely proving the old adage that no one ever went broke overestimating the horniness of a global population slowly emerging from pandemic-mandated isolation.
Here, the central twosome making a mockery of social distancing are pretty, fine-boned Laura (Anna Maria Sieklucka), a wispy nothing-character whose “untamable” qualities are largely demonstrated by the retaliatory wearing of tauntingly short skirts and dresses made of roughly four sequins, and hulkingly handsome Massimo (Michele Morrone). Massimo is a creature summoned into being so directly from the burning pits of the collective hetero female imagination it’s amazing his shirt doesn’t catch fire, on the rare occasion that he wears one. Laura is some sort of hospitality consultant or hotel manager — it really doesn’t matter — and Massimo is a ruthless mafia boss who has been obsessed with her since he saw a vision of her face when he thought he was dying.
That early scene is a particularly fine sampler of DP Bartek Cielica’s photography: heavily reliant on swirling steadicam, scrupulously glossy, indebted to the aesthetic of the kind of late-’90s music video in which ascendant pop stars decided to go “cinematic” by hiring a helicopter and a Greek island. It’s an impression enhanced by the music — where Mateusz and Michal Sarapata’s score is unobtrusively suave, the soundtrack appears to represent a very deep dive into a stock music library with the search keywords: soft rock, vocal fry, Nickelback soundalike.
After four years, Massimo has practically given up on finding her. Then Laura comes to Sicily on holiday with her boorish boyfriend (Mateusz Lasowski), and he spots her, cracking out his icky catchphrase “Are you lost, baby girl?” (the infantilizing references to 29-year-old Laura, sometimes by Laura herself, do not let up). He drugs and kidnaps her — the obvious thing for a filthy rich, smoking hot, deltoidally overdeveloped dreamboat to do — and Laura wakes up in a fancy room which, in apparent homage to the film’s obvious touchpoint is decorated in, let’s say, 49 hues of anthracite, silver and slate.
She and Massimo make a nonsensical “deal” whereby he will not have sex with her unless she wants it (what a prince) but she has to stay with him for 365 days. They move to Rome, which cues one of her only true flashes of indignation at the wholesale removal of her freedom, when she huffs “I’m not a bag of potatoes you can transport without permission!” obscurely giving one to wonder where all these freely available bags of ownerless potatoes are.
At some point, during the astonishingly vacuous Laura’s own version of the 12 days of narcissist Christmas (four shopping sprees, three swanky parties, two makeovers, one gold ring and zero moral qualms about Massimo’s murderous day job), she gets over her silly aversion to being kidnapped, and the shagging begins. And despite no full-frontal from either star, their sex scenes are the film’s best, largely because they’re not talking and are both nice to look at, whether engaged in some light choke play on a boat or squidged against a penthouse window with a panoramic city view. It’s likely the sex-only Pornhub-autoplay-preview of “365 Days” will be a lot better than the actual film.
Alas, we get context: the dumber-than-hair sexual politics, the two flavors of misogyny (internalized and overt) and the extremely ugly suggestion — exemplified by a flight attendant smiling through streaky mascara as though the rough oral sex she reluctantly performed on Massimo were somehow pleasurable for her — that consent can be obtained retroactively. That, of course is the premise of “365 Days” and also one of the oldest, falsest and most enraging canards of rape apologism: That it can’t be rape if it seems, after the fact, like she “enjoyed” it.
Couple that to the tacitly admiring attitude toward to Massimo’s “alpha male” mafia status and you just have to hope that “365 Days”‘ utter preposterousness will be bulwark enough against its queasy, archaic assumptions ever even lightly brushing against the real world. And then extend that hope into the future too, as you are ravaged by an ending which, in terms of shameless sequel-baiting (there are another two books in the series, heigh-ho), plays you so hard they’ll hear you groan in Warsaw.