Cannes 2018: One Day – First Look Review

Not all heroes wear capes. Take Anna (Zsófia Szamosi), for example. From the outside looking in, she lives a simple and secure existence. Mother of three adorable children, living together in a spacious apartment with her husband, and working a job that’s both stable & rewarding. On the page, it sounds perfect. The reality, however, is a little more complicated.

Dropping us into the middle of Anna’s life for roughly a 36-hour period – the title is something of a misnomer – we follow her as she rushes to organise her children in the morning, before dropping them off at their respective schools, heading to work, running personal errands, returning to take the kids to their individual after-school classes – her eldest son, Simon (Ambrus Barcza), learns how to fence, and play the cello, while younger daughter Sári (Zorka Varga-Blaskó) attends ballet with a school friend – and then heading home to tidy up and cook the dinner before her husband, Szabolcs (Leó Füredi), returns from the office.

It’s a relentless, but fundamentally rewarding study of the everyday. Hungarian director Zsófia Szilágyi took creative inspiration from a day-to-day account written by one of her own friends while she was in the throes of raising children. And from those first-hand experiances, Szilágyi has constructed a sombre piece of present-day, neorealist fiction that resonantly accentuates the uncompromising monotony of modern existence.

Not everything is successful. A narrative thread involving a suspicion of infidelity between Anna & Szabolcs lacks an emotional rigour, perhaps by design; never given enough breathing room within the frenetic confines of the story to feel like anything more then an afterthought. While the image in one closing scene of a car repetitively circling a roundabout to denote how we are, as a species, going around in circles is a blunt and excessive metaphor that only detracts from the film’s profound air of restraint.

Much of the heavy lifting falls on Szamosi’s able shoulders: her astonishing depiction of Anna rendered with a brittle candour. DP Balázs Domokos tracks her story from a distance, but retains a measured intimacy with the character throughout. The juxtaposition of chaotically frantic handheld photography in moments of haste, sensitively supplemented by a sedate, almost static framing during the rare moments of peace that Anna’s able to steal.

By no means an easy sell, One Day remains very much of the moment; underpinning the chronic day-to-day pressures that lead many to feel isolated by their own unhappiness. It’s a maternal thriller, of sorts, too – an exhaustingly powerful illustration of contemporary motherhood, and the extraordinary superwomen who lead the charge.

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