A Day and a Half

Sep 12, 2023
Dimitris Passas

In his directorial debut, the popular Swedish-Lebanese actor Fares Fares delivers a film that may initially fall under the clichéd trope of hostage situation drama, but this just a guise, a mask for an ambitious production focusing on broken family relationships and their devastating effects on the individuals. Fares also co-signs the screenplay, along with first-timer Peter Smirnakos, and holds one of the main roles in this emotional drama that doesn't always succeed in its intended objectives. While the story begins as your typical hostage drama, the story soon changes tack in terms of tone as it becomes evident as soon as the three protagonists, Artan (Alexej Manvelov), his estranged wife Louise (Alma Pöysti) and officer Lucas (Fares Fares), embark on a car that is gradually transformed into a kind of confessional with the vehicle's interior evolving into a sacred ground for all three where they can express themselves freely. It is there that they speak the truth, express their acrimony and bitterness over each other, while admitting some of their most fundamental mistakes that marked their past and shaped their present status. A Day and a Half commences with Artan, an underprivileged immigrant who used to have troubles with the law during his stay in Sweden, visiting the medical center where Louise works and demanding to see her at once. When the woman in the reception rejects his request, his rage impels him to pull out his gun and threaten everybody around him, frantically repeating that his wife kidnapped their daughter and took her away from her father.

Soon, officer Lucas enters the scene, and he struggles to be the voice of reason that must prevail in order to defuse an onerous situation that could easily devolve into chaos, and to the death of innocent people. Artan holds Louise at gunpoint and explicitly states his demand to see his little daughter, who is currently living in her maternal grandparent's house. After overcoming some practical problems, the trio of protagonists gets into the car and the journey of self-discovery is on. Sadly, the screenplay's weakness as far as dialogue is concerned subtracts from the film's overall potential, and it is due to that major defect that the main characters, who are supposed to represent human beings plausibly in all their complexity and multidimensionality, eventually fail to convince the audience. The characterization, especially in some parts of the movie, feels rather shallow, with each one of the protagonists manifesting their inner essence by rotating around a single axon: Artan is desperate; Louise is mentally unstable and occasionally hysteric; Lucas is depressive due to his own family troubles. When the characters are introduced in such a superficial manner, any concept of authenticity is condemned. Imagine how important this is for a production which aspires to discuss and provide valuable insights into diachronic questions that have tantalized humans since time immemorial.

Some may argue that the problem doesn't emanate from the script, but can be traced in the stilted performances by the members of the trio. However, I firmly believe that this is not the case here. Manvelov, an actor who is typecast in the roles of the foreigner villain in Swedish television and cinema, proves that he possesses the skills to incarnate other kinds of characters, and the haunted look on his face doesn't ever fade throughout the movie's runtime. When the triad first gets into the car in order to drive to Louise's parents' home, Artan, in an attempt to impose his agency over the others, says: "I'm in charge here!"; however, his wavering voice reveals his true state of mind and more specifically the fear of having set in motion something that cannot be undone and may lead in disastrous consequences both for himself and his loved ones. A lesser actor would have resorted to a more roughly hewn and caricaturist in nature to unequivocally convey the point to the audience, but Manvelov doesn't employ hyperbole in any form, he just says the words in just the right tone; that of a man who can't even convince his own self of what he says. Alma Pöysti makes her best in attributing a sense of depth to the problematic character of Louise, whose problems have their roots in a tough childhood as we understand when we are introduced to her horrible patents, while Fares is just ok in the least demanding role of the film. Lucas's personal story is interpolated into the central one, and the audience is supposed to feel for him and comprehend how close he is to the couple in terms of emotional baggage and damage.

Even though it wouldn't be fair to say that A Day and a Half is a movie that you should avoid, it is true that it could be much better in certain aspects, the most prominent being both the screenplay in general and the dialogue in specific. It ranks among the most unimpressive Nordic films distributed by Netflix and completely lacks the decisive elements of a thriller, thus be warned: this is a whole different approach to the hostage drama, many miles away from the American prototypes. If you keep that in mind, the movie will make at least much more sense.

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