A Day in the Life, As Seen on YouTube 

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Life in a Day
Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Last year, the New York Times published a photo project where each of the thousands of shots submitted were taken at more or less the same instant. Modern technology has made an undertaking like this relatively simple, but the results were hypnotic and strangely moving in the sense of “we’re all in this together.” Now here comes Life in a Day, comprised entirely of amateur YouTube videos filmed on July 24, 2010. And again the results are mesmerizing, though if the enterprise feels incomplete, of course it does. The world cannot be condensed into 90 minutes.

Structurally, Life is not too dissimilar from Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, which whirled through a Russian day and invented a new cinematic grammar. Life is less abstract, stacking montages of waking up ahead of ones of breakfast, but the Herculean editing by Joe Walker (and the dozens of submitters) is fast, witty, and follows emotional threads throughout. Consider it an aesthetic for the YouTube age: soft but frenzied and personal. The videos themselves range in subject from daily street life to graphic scenes of slaughterhouses and in quality from serviceable (everyone’s equipment is adequate and they know how to effectively frame shots) to stunning: one following a paper boat down a river would be the envy of any cinematographer.

Occasionally it pauses for people—a sequence with a new graduate and his father is like a perfectly contained short story—but most glimpses of the people inhabiting the world are just that: glimpses. The lack of resolution deadens their impact—not fatally, but it would at least have been nice to learn where everything was shot.

Still, there’s more humanity in the brief moments of man coming out to his grandmother or the Army wife tearing up after a Skype date with her husband than most films contain at all, and like The Tree of Life, Life in a Day carries a humbling power that reminds us of the scope of the world beyond our own time and space.

Opens July 29

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