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Friday, Aug. 10, 2007
'One Day in Europe'
Coming together via soccer
By KAORI SHOJI
"One Day in Europe" is a comedy of cultural and linguistic misunderstanding that toys with the idea of a unified Europe, where everyone shares the same singular, unifying identity. Unlike many Americans, who proudly admit to being "American," Europeans — single currency and the EU notwithstanding — tend to hold steadfastly to their local individuality. The film suggests that soccer is the reason: Europe's love, nay obsession, for the game translates to a love for their locale and home teams.
The story begins the night Galatasaray plays Deportivo La Coruna in a fictitious Champions League Final in Moscow and divides into four episodes spanning four cities — Moscow, Istanbul, Berlin and Santiago de Compostela. Interestingly, none of the characters in any of the cities could care less about soccer and simply go about their lives while, in the background, crowds of fans march and chant on the streets.
Directed by Germany's Hannes Stohr, "One Day" isn't political, despite its frequent allusions to the EU and Europe's soccer religion. The leisurely storytelling and chuckle-inducing moments recall Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth" (1991), which also highlighted the difference of individuals, the humor spawned from miscommunication and a childlike delight in the vastness of the planet. Despite encroaching globalization, the world was large enough for any number of languages and all kinds of people, or so that movie's message seemed to read. Here, a similar feeling assails the senses: an all's-right-with-the-world sort of mood that's become increasing rare in contemporary cinema, where the prevailing emotions swing between sweet nostalgia and gnawing fear.
Nothing drastically bad happens in "One Day" apart from petty theft and physical discomfort and there's always a mild hopefulness that by the end of the day (it is, as the title suggests, only one day), things will turn out OK.
In Istanbul, a German student, Rocco (Florian Lukas), fakes a mugging so he can get his hands on some insurance money and struggles to get the suspicious police to buy into his story. In Santiago de Compostela, a depressed Hungarian, Gabor (Peter Scherer), who's on a mission to visit Europe's major cathedrals, has his digital camera stolen. Four hundred treasured photographs are gone and the policeman on the beat consoles him by saying, "It's not the pictures that count but the journey itself." Gabor sadly retorts, "You may be right . . . but you don't understand." Meanwhile in Moscow, where the soccer match causes pandemonium on the streets, a glib English businesswoman called Kate (Megan Gay) gets mugged in broad daylight and then must rely on the kindness of an old Russian woman, Elena (Ludmila Tsvetkova), to file a complaint to the police. In Berlin, two Parisian street performers, Claude (Boris Arquier) and Rachida (Rachida Brakni), find themselves stranded, unable to speak German, but cooking up an insurance scam so they can get their hands on some cash.
"One Day" is undemanding and never ambitious; Stohr seems content to skirt the issues of European disunity without criticism or solution and the vignettes are airy, well-crafted and attractively shot. If anything Stohr seems fascinated by the localized differences of Europe, where in a single continent so many cultures and languages coexist (or do not) to form a kind of compartmentalized whole. The continent is presented as a mildly annoying but still likable place where things don't always work, bureaucratic systems are a bitch and language and culture change from border to border. Stohr happily charts the brief, unlikely friendships and bonds that are forged and then fade in the process. He doesn't resort to stereotypes but it's all rather predictable in a backpacker's travel-manual kind of way.
If you're able to enjoy getting lost in a strange place, stranded without guidebook or itinerary and with no knowledge of the lingo, "One Day in Europe" should evoke fond feelings. It's probably not a movie for people who like being in control and planning ahead. But it recalls a time when the world was unfathomably huge and strangeness was the norm. Traveling across a continent meant any number of perils and discomfort, and meeting people who may or may not cause harm or rob you blind. Like the characters in the film, one had to be shrewd, trusting and always just a little bit hopeful.
When Elena, in a spontaneous outburst of Russian generosity, piles vodka and pickles into the arms of a frustrated and bewildered Kate, the latter mumbles, "Well it can't be all that bad." That statement just about sums it up, for the film and probably for Stohr's views on life and traveling. We can count on things being not all bad, and be grateful for that.