In June 2020, as a hot-and-bothered world fretted through a lockdown summer, Netflix slipped a Polish-Italian erotic drama called 365 Days into its algorithm. A softcore fantasy of yacht sex, thick accents, and troubling consent issues, it came across as a low-rent Fifty Shades of Grey: flashier, trashier, simultaneously tamer and more offensive, and much more inept and cheesy. An unequivocally terrible film, it was also an enormous hit. It went straight to No. 1 in Netflix’s top 10 chart and stayed there for 10 days, still one of the longest runs the service has seen.
Now we have a sequel, 365 Days: This Day, which features more sex (or at least more participants), more brooding, more expensive cars and clothes, more unintentional comedy, even less plot, and the same number of visible penises (zero). As difficult as it might be to believe, it’s even worse than the first movie. But it goes down easier, because much of the first film’s ugly side has been smoothed away. That’s a good thing — isn’t it? Well, that depends on why anyone was watching in the first place. To pick that apart, we need to revisit the original.
Based on the first of a trilogy of erotic novels by Polish author Blanka Lipińska, 365 Days follows a young woman, Laura (Anna-Maria Sieklucka), from Warsaw to Sicily, where she’s spotted and promptly kidnapped by Massimo (Michele Morrone), a glowering, chiseled, obscenely rich Mafia scion. It turns out Massimo has been obsessed with Laura since he observed her on a beach, through binoculars, the day his father was assassinated and he himself almost died. (The film doesn’t take time to explore why a bullet passing through his father’s body and into his own would carry such a lingering erotic charge for Massimo, but wow.)
Massimo says he will keep Laura captive for 365 days, enough time for her to fall in love with him. But while he desperately wants her and he’s used to taking whatever he wants, he promises to refrain from raping her. What a gentleman. The fiery Laura blazes back at him throughout her early captivity, but without the horror her situation would seem to demand. At the risk of spoilers, before the 365 days are up, they’re consensually going at it in a series of very vigorous, surprisingly vanilla sex scenes.
This grotesque, disquieting setup sparked a lot of conversation at the time. An early scene where Massimo wordlessly demands and receives oral sex from one of his employees carries a distinctly unpleasant flavor of sexual violence. The bland and largely kink-free nature of the rest of the romps is still colored by the coercion inherent in the film’s premise. The film was co-directed and co-written by women, and based on a book by a woman, but the male gaze dominates both the narrative and the camera’s leering presence.
Kidnapping as an established female sex fantasy, with its complex layers of control and consent, is too big and tricky a topic for this review. What 365 Days does is create a kind of aesthetic safe space for that fantasy. With its thin characters, bad acting, laughably threadbare plot, music-video direction, and sex that’s explicit only to a point, 365 Days is porn-but-not. It has neither the emotional stakes of actual drama nor the stigma of actual smut. You can laugh it off. (Perhaps this also explains why people choose to watch stuff like this even when it sits right next to the full-frontal nudity and explicit unsimulated sex of something like Gaspar Noé’s Love, which was also on Netflix for a while.)
All of these qualities are shared by the sequel 365 Days: This Day, except those that made the first film troubling but gave it its (few, wobbly) teeth. Adapted from the second of Lipińska’s books, This Day picks up where the first film left off — kind of. In one of the awkward lurches and clumsy, nonsensical elisions that are the unfortunate trademark of directors Barbara Białowąs and Tomasz Mandes, 365 Days’ cliffhanger ending is unceremoniously brushed aside. Now it’s Laura and Massimo’s wedding day!
After some boning, it’s revealed that Laura lost the child she was carrying at the end of the first film, but never mind — more boning. Massimo is still withholding and controlling, but now within the context of a “normal” trophy-wife Mafia marriage — and there’s always the boning. Laura’s best friend Olga (Magdalena Lamparska, charming and garrulous, once again the standout performer by far) couples up with Massimo’s right-hand man Domenico (Otar Saralidze) to join in the boning fun.
Nothing else happens for the first half of this film. Squandering what narrative tension the first film had, and in no particular hurry to set up its own, This Day starts out as a limp, redundant frame for fantasy sex. In the second half, a telenovela-level melodrama comes to a reluctant boil. Massimo’s ex has a nefarious plan, Massimo has family he hasn’t mentioned, and Laura is visited by mysterious, hunky gardener Nacho, who wears a hat that literally says “cock” on it. It’s all very silly in a way that’s almost endearing, although it’s handled so sloppily that it can still become boring.
365 Days: This Day frequently slumps into a torpid haze of wheeling, slow-motion montages that don’t really distinguish between shots of sex, shopping, supercars, and heartwarming family dinners. The wealth-porn is as prominent as the porn-porn. There’s a carpet of numb Europop over the whole thing, some of it sung by Morrone himself. (One choice couplet: “I’m a little bit of a psycho / I’m driving you like a Lambo.”)
Defanged of the first film’s problematic premise, This Day is easier to enjoy as guilt-free camp. There are moments of ripe, tasteless abandon that are absolutely hilarious, intentionally or (more likely) not. The white bridal Lamborghini. The honeymoon game of sex golf, where Laura pole dances on the green’s flag, then spreads her legs to invite Massimo’s putt. The shackles that have “fuck me” embossed on them in gold. The extraordinary display of eyewear throughout, as Massimo and Laura mask their squinting pouts, constipated frowns, and grimacing sex faces in ever more extravagant assemblies of tinted glass. (Talk about 50 shades.)
There’s nothing like reality here, and certainly nothing like real sex. There’s isn’t much sex at all in the last half hour, as the plot, such as it is, gets down to business and sets up an ending that the inevitable third film will probably ignore. There are no stakes, and there’s little that’s offensive, except to the art and craft of cinema. It’s funny. It’s glossy. It’s a fantasy. It’s safe. It’s soft.
365 Days: This Day is now streaming on Netflix.