Life In A Day review

We’re gonna need a montage...

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What were you doing on 24 July last year?

You could’ve been uploading a video on YouTube hoping it might feature in this much-discussed user-generated documentary.

With 80,000 clips submitted, amounting to over 4,500 hours of material, the odds of that happening were admittedly slight. If you succeeded, though, congratulations! We never doubted you for a second.

There’s something joyously egalitarian about a film made by the people, for the people – a sensation director Kevin Macdonald enhances by constructing subsections detailing the everyday activities (sleeping, eating, washing, defecating) we do no matter where we hail from.

Birth (human, avian and giraffe), marriage (Elvis-themed), even death (a harrowing crowd crush at a German street parade): all life is here, in one form or another.

The result is exhilarating, uplifting and profoundly disorienting – a dizzying, multi-lingual brew that whisks you around the world in a literal blink of the eye, without ever informing you where you are or what you are looking at.

Give in to the experience and it’s an eye-popping rush. Yet what, in the end does Life In A Day tell us? Is its message that all our existences – however drab and mundane – are worth recording and celebrating? Or does it suggest the complete opposite: that we’re all just so much disposable footage, to be chewed up, spat out or ignored altogether?

The overriding impression, inevitably perhaps, is one of social inequality, the smug tool with a Lamborghini contrasting appallingly with the dirt-poor infant shining shoes for pennies. How does that square, though, with the film’s overarching concept – that we’re all joined together under one moon, breathing the same air and dreaming the same dreams?

Food for thought then, not to mention a triumph of assembly that should, by rights, make Joe Walker a shoo-in for 2012’s Best Editing Oscar. And here were we thinking YouTube was only for cats.

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.