Shamar Gunning reviews the highly successful film ‘365 Dni’ and considers why it chose to promote harmful and dated violence narratives.
TW: sexual assault, rape, consent
It is more than likely that by now we’ve all heard of the movie ‘365 Dni’. The Polish “erotic” film was released in early 2020 and made available world-wide on Netflix in June where it became extremely successful. The film made it to the top three most viewed items in Germany, Saudi Arabia, India, the United States and, of course, the United Kingdom to name just a few countries. Despite the films success it also received widespread criticism for its depiction of sexual violence, abduction and a multitude of other crimes. Among the critics was singer Duffy who wrote a letter to the Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, admonishing his lack of responsibility for allowing the film’s release. Despite plans for a sequel to the film (following the three-part series formula of its popular cousin Fifty Shades of Grey), it is important to remember the real life impact of films such as these.
In November 2020 an Italian multi-millionaire named Alberto Genovese was arrested after an 18 year old woman alleged he had drugged, kidnapped, and raped her at his luxury penthouse in Milan. Additionally Genovese’s bouncers prevented the woman’s friends from getting to her and even the police, who were called to the house twice, did not manage to stop the assault. Of course this case is not an exact parallel to the film, but there are elements which are disturbingly familiar.
The power dynamic which in ‘365 Dni’ is portrayed as attractive, both to protagonist Laura and the viewers, is demonstrated to be anything but that in the Genovese case. Money, power and influence afford both men, in fiction and reality, a unique buffer to the laws and institutions which should protect potential victims.
The list of crimes main character Massimo Torricelli commits is almost too many to name; kidnapping, sexual assault and trafficking to name but a few. Netflix does offer warnings ahead of the film, however these do little to counteract the obvious romanticisation of violence – sexual and other – against women. Massimo’s crimes are forgiven by the author and supposedly the audience because he is wealthy, conventionally attractive, and because Laura’s life is assumed to be better with the “love” of a rich man.
Even more disturbingly, in real life Genovese is quoted as saying “my perception of that evening with the girl was that we were in love and having a beautiful evening together.” These words are so strikingly similar to the delusions expressed by Blanka Lipińska’s Massimo in ‘365 Dni’ that it’s almost surprising he was not quoting from the script itself. Massimo is convinced he is in love with a woman he has never met and additionally thinks kidnapping and assaulting her is a romantic gesture which will cause her to fall in love with him. Most likely if he too were arrested this would be his response.
In the film Laura, our heroine, escapes briefly and runs to the Italian police who ignore her desperate requests for aid and instead nod dumbly at her captor and continue on his way. Leaning into the “mafia” trope which many Italians have also derided as unrealistic, this scene sends a dangerous message to victims in 2021. In ‘365 Dni’ the police’s indifference and “respect” for Massimo appears as yet another display of his total power over his victim. However, in a culture where thousands of cases of rape and assault are left unreported due to a lack of trust in the police, it is even more irresponsible. It is inexcusable to present institutions which should protect vulnerable victims of trafficking as indifferent to those they are intended to protect. Wealth and power in this particular brand of erotic film are a tool of insulation from the effects of the law and culpability. This is not merely an overly dramatic device of the film, this is a very pertinent reality in 2021. Genovese is not alone in proving that. Compare Jeffrey Epstein, infamous trafficker and rapist who served his first sentence of only 18 months after pleading guilty to procuring prostitution from a girl below the age of 18. Instead of being sent to prison, as is the traditional course of action in Florida, he was given house arrest in a private wing and allowed “work release” to leave for up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week allowing him to fly wherever he wished. Is this the message of agency and liability we want to sustain as we go into the future?
In fact the only moral discussion in the film comes from Massimo’s disdain for one of his employees who has been trafficking vulnerable women. This, with little explanation as to why, is completely different from Massimo’s own behaviour and is instead considered reprehensible leading him to kill the other man. Yet another string of crime is added to our love interest’s bow. The distinction here is clear, women who are trafficked and assaulted by regular people are capable of being considered helpless victims, but those attacked by wealthy and powerful men are simply players in a romance dynamic, a fairy story of the perpetrators creation.
The sequel for the film is set to appear in the latter part of 2021, with filming halted due to the pandemic. However, the message from Netflix appears quite clear; as long as it remains profitable, the exploitation of and violence against women is open fodder for dramatisation regardless of the real world consequences.
Artwork by Laura Cook.