One Day at The Mosaic

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

At the backyard of The Mosaic Hotel, an open-air screening of the 2011 movie One Day was held. Christian Tesfaye attended the event, which he liked for its unique method of showcasing a movie but rejected the movie itself, awarding 4 out of 10 stars.

If one takes a detour from the thoroughfare that takes one away from Medhane-Alem Cathedral, in Bole sub-city, to Airport Road, The Mosaic Hotel could be found, although somewhat hidden away. It is not exactly an impressive hotel. The interiors are decent at best and few rooms could offer a good view of the city as the hotel is surrounded by buildings, some of them unfinished.

I did not care though. When I went there last Friday, around night time, it was because of a promise for a movie. One Day, a 2011 romantic drama, was being shown. I had already watched the movie, on one of the MBC satellite channels, but The Mosaic had promised it would be presented differently, in the open air.

In Western countries, it is perhaps more formally known as drive-in cinema. A movie is screened at a parking lot for audiences in their automobiles. But the practice, once famous in the 1950s, especially in the United States, has since gone out of favour. Together with the decline in attendance numbers in cinemas, drive-in theatres saw their audiences dwindle as a result of the proliferation of the TV, VCR cassettes, DVDs and, finally, the death blow, the Internet.

The open-air screening in the backyard of The Mosiac Hotel was not a drive-in cinema – there was no parking space large enough to accommodate any sizable number of cars, to begin with – but a close cousin of it. There was beer, snacks, and mats and cushions to give an informal ambience.

Of course, only one thing was missing from this otherwise welcome occasion. A good movie. They screened, of all the films in the world, One Day, the Anne Hathaway vehicle of six years ago.

It is about Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), who meet on their graduation day. The title refers to July 15, the date that gets revisited to serve as the timeline for the entire film. Some years they are together, some years they are not. The romance plays out slowly, non-determinedly, painfully endeavouring not to be caught by the usual rom-com cliché traps.

Couples in movies either end up together, or they do not. Either end has been explored before, and by films that have a far loftier stature in cinema history than One Day. Casablanca and Annie Hall deservedly claim the prize for a bittersweet conclusion, while City Lights and The Shop Around the Corner already hold the mantle for the best happily-ever-after endings, according to me.

This does not mean a good romantic movie cannot be made today. Last year’s La La Land did not have a unique story but made up for it with breathtaking visuals and excellent musical numbers. Richards Linklater’s Before Trilogy is another reasonably recent franchise that has offered complex characters, brilliant dialogue and ambiguous endings with every nine-year span release. The 2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, on the other hand, provides a mind-bending plotline to draw the audience further into what is at the end of the day a love story.

One Day fails because it is a cut and dried romantic drama. The method of narration, where the couple’s experiences are chronicled yearly, does not make it unique. The dialogue is cheesy – at one point they bet whether or not mobile phones will take off. The characters are dull, especially that of Sturgess’, who could more appropriately be described as an antihero. I am sure One Day would find its niche in TV, where quantity obscures quality, but cinema demands originality and noncompliance.

My disappointment with the movie is, in contrast, to the excitement I felt when I first found the open-air screening would not be for a recent release. Contemporarily, every event is designed to feel fashionable and have a topic that is current, which may or may not seem relevant. And since all great movies are pertinent – which is why they have become ‘great’ – I had high hopes.

But they showed One Day.

If the idea was to unshackle the thirsty youth from the twisted mentality that new is superior, then why not back the claim with a better movie than with a substandard rom-com?

Why not attempt When Harry Met Sally, Midnight in Paris or, maybe even, As Good as It Gets?

Of course, all of these movies should be watched with more attention than an outdoor gathering allows. It is hard to imagine an audience noticing the intelligent subtleties of Before Sunset after three bottles of beer. But, the occasion is essential. It draws attention to cinema; it brings back the collective, nostalgic longing for the theatre, which was what made cinema so prevalent in the pre-Internet era.

The organizer’s seeming nonchalance for new flicks is also an admirable characteristic. The current ardour over recent releases may apply to smartphones, but when it comes to movies, or art in general, new is rarely better.

Published on Oct 08,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 911]



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