A little over halfway through Netflix’s hit film 365 Days, there comes a scene that foreshadows the derivative resolution of this Polish drama. Massimo, a handsome and ripped Sicilian gangster, has kidnapped a beautiful, plucky woman named Laura with the aim of imprisoning her for a year in hopes that it will be enough time for her to fall in love with him. She is sitting in the courtyard of his guarded castle, across a long table lit with candelabras and covered with a cornucopia of fruit. She’s wearing a fancy dress with strappy black lingerie underneath, the results of an earlier shopping spree (the first of multiple such montages) with her kidnapper and his armed guards. Massimo is looking refined in a sharp suit, but she knows better, and not just because of his hand tattoos: earlier, she saw him and his men killing a man on the compound. Behind them, a turquoise pool glistens in the moonlight. “I’d like you to teach me... how to be gentle… for you,” says Massimo, the man holding her prisoner.
At this “how to be gentle” line, I began singing aloud: “Tale as old as tiiiiime, true as it can beeeee, barely even friennnnds, then somebody bennnnnds, unnn-expec-ted-lyyyy.” It was the most enjoyment I got from watching this terrible, terrible film.
Despite 365 Days’ terribleness, it has been bouncing around the top spots on Netflix’s most-watched list in the U.S. There are two reasons for this, both having to do with the buzz-generating outrageousness of the film’s choices around portrayals of romance and sex. First, there are fundamental violations of consent, both in Massimo’s abduct-to-love scheme, as well as in several of the sex scenes. Second, the vivid, protracted sex scenes are surprising for their context: a Netflix drama, one you might mistakenly watch with your parents. Much coverage of the film has focused on a five-minute-plus montage of frenzied, vivid fucking upon most surfaces of Massimo’s bright, shiny yacht. In that sequence, there is a blowjob during which you just might catch a glimpse of peen or dildo or who really knows what she’s sucking on.
For these reasons, the film has been called “the closest thing to porn” on the streaming service. I would say it’s more specifically like a big-budget porn film with dramatically thinned out narrative and character development, a bunch of unambiguously abusive “foreplay” added in, and all of the hardcore elements taken out.
So much of the sexual intensity of 365 Days comes before Massimo and Laura even have sex, which happens over an hour into the film. Their adversarial dynamic is treated as an aphrodisiac, maybe even the main event itself. We are meant to feel bad for Massimo, who seems to have imprinted on Laura years back after improbably seeing her from afar moments before his father was killed, and Massimo himself almost died, in a hit by a rival crime family. Since then, he’s taken the reigns and turned into a brutal mafia boss, although pains are taken to show that Massimo is anti-child abuse, which seems a cheap signifier of morality in a film that consistently eroticizes sexual violence against grown women. Early on, we see Massimo aggressively face-fuck a stewardess, presumably an employee. Although she unzips his fly and is shown smiling afterward, there is little else to suggest that it is consensual (and, of course, if she is his employee, the possibility for consent is fundamentally corrupted).
After kidnapping Laura, he tells her that he will never do anything without her consent (aside from holding her hostage, of course). Just seconds earlier, though, he had thrown her down on a chair and placed his hand on her breast after she tried to run away from him. Later, he sexually assaults her as she is imprisoned on his private airplane: While Laura is handcuffed and with multiple seatbelts holding her in place, Massimo rubs her nipple and sticks his hand down her pants. In another disturbing moment, Massimo forcefully chains Laura to a bed with handcuffs and a telescoping lens that widens her legs further every time she struggles. He then proceeds to bring in another woman, telling Laura, “I’m gonna show you what you’re missing.” Apparently, what she is missing is the opportunity to be aggressively face-fucked. “I’m gonna fuck you so hard that they will hear you scream in Warsaw,” he tells her after.
Laura is presented as a formidable challenger to Massimo’s sociopathy. She consistently challenges him, saying things like, “Nobody owns me. I’m not an object” and “I’m not a bag of potatoes that you can transfer without my permission.” At one point, she slaps him, and he appears to refrain from responding in kind (he loves her just that much!!!!). Occasionally, she’s portrayed as sexually teasing and tempting him. In one scene, after he joins her in the shower, Laura sensually grabs at his sides and places her hands on his chest before turning away, then he grabs her forcefully and says, “Baby girl, when your entire life is based on taking everything with force, it’s hard to react in a different way, especially if someone is taking away a pleasure you really desire.” He adds, “Don’t provoke me.” Throughout these early scenes, there is the persistent threat of Massimo’s violence.
Once they get past the abuse-slash-courtship and have sex for the first time, it’s comparatively vanilla, in a frenzied rabbit-fucking kinda way. Granted, they do it all over that boat and, later, in front of a floor-to-ceiling window. He does sensually(?) dribble some spit onto her cooch during cunnilingus, which some people on the internet seem to find very spicy. There is some generic roughness, like holding her hands behind her back during doggie. But the chains and telescoping lens have seemingly dematerialized. While Laura is depicted blowing him (there has been much tittering about the vaguest glimpses of some sort of shaft in those scenes, and the actress is definitely sucking on something), there is none of Massimo’s earlier aggressive face-fucking. With Laura, the sex is sweaty and breathy and pounds, but with a mutuality that I suppose counts as comparatively romantic. Laura’s tamed the beast out of him, just as we knew would happen.
Soon, he’s proposing, there’s a rock on her finger, and she’s pregnant. Ah, how quickly depraved abduction turns to cookie-cutter fairytale. Although 365 Days has drawn comparisons to Fifty Shades of Grey, it isn’t the sex that’s kinky so much as the quote-unquote “courtship.” Of course, it’s not actually kink (or courtship): there are no consent checklists or boundary discussions between Laura and Massimo. What is eroticized is his desperate, nearly uncontrollable wanting, just as in a classic bodice-ripper. The story circles around his badness and Laura’s ability, through sheer pluck and desirability, to change him for the better. These are tired romantic tropes, of course. There is not much new to see here, except that 365 Days pushes against the constraints of mainstream entertainment. But the shock of seeing maybe, possibly erect peen on Netflix doesn’t successfully carry this film, or warrant the hype around it.