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Life from a global perspective, and into the past

by Kaori Shoji

It may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but “Life in a Day” is a prophetic example of where film may be headed. Everything that has surrounded and defined the film industry — studios, locations, directors, casts and theaters — all of these are condensed into two letters: PC. Flip open a laptop and you’re in a multiplex; open some apps and you’re a director.

“Life in a Day” is a crowdsourcing project: 80,000 submissions from 192 countries were sent in via YouTube, all chronicles of people’s lives on July 24, 2010. The team headed by director Kevin Macdonald (“Touching the Void”) then spliced, sliced and strung the various footage together to form a 90-minute film experience that offers a window on what it’s like to inhabit this planet on one particular day.

There’s no voice-over. There’s no CGI. Much of the footage is headache-inducing, low-resolution stuff, occasionally alleviated by fragments of clear, pro-quality frames. The soundtrack is an original score by Harry Gregson-Williams and Matthew Herbert, and this is practically the only nod made in the direction of conventional cinema.

So it’s a little surprising to find so much to savor in “Life in a Day.” After all, how interesting could footage of a father teaching his teenage son to shave be to today’s sophisticated viewer? Plenty, as it turns out — or more accurately, there’s something here for everyone. And when you think of the sheer, daunting number of those YouTube submissions, “everyone” takes on a new resonance. The film speaks volumes not because it strives for the extraordinary and excellent, but because it discovers so much in the ordinary.

Having said so, the scenes that linger are the ones that show the adventurous, the disturbing or the strange, such as a Korean man who has cycled around the globe for the past 10 years and is set on doing the same for another decade. Or a cow being slaughtered over a huge vat of blood. Or 12 people getting out of 12 beds, all at the same time.

Such frames flash by and sometimes recur, and the day that begins at dawn and closes at midnight gracefully spins forward. In the meantime, the film equalizes all emotions and all experiences; there’s no ranking a child’s grinning face above or below people getting trampled to death at a parade — it’s all part and parcel of the business of living.

Terribly reductive or simply universal? “Life in a Day” never attempts to answer the big questions or even make comments: It just wants to showcase what living is about, and then be done with the day. That’s not such a bad thing.

‘Live each day as if it were the last” may be one of the tritest philosophies in the history of mankind, but director Allen Coulter (who helmed 12 episodes of the hit TV series “The Sopranos”) keeps a straight face as he hammers that message with every frame in “Remember Me.”

With a story of romantic love and family ties set in the summer of 2001, Coulter and his entire cast form a united front in presenting the last glorious summer of optimistic innocence before terrorist attacks, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, the Great Recession and the Gulf Oil Spill marred and altered life in the USA — and by default, the entire globe — forever.

The golden, pre-9/11 feeling of carefree happiness is reenacted here by American teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson (of “Twilight” fame) and “Lost” actress Emilie de Ravin, who are both nice to look at and sport the postgrunge style of the early years of the millennium with effortless chic. Pattinson’s character also guzzles beer in lieu of meals and is a human smoke stack, two habits that recall an era when such pastimes were not just socially acceptable but also kind of sexy.

So it’s easy to see how the chain-smoking, alcohol-drenched Tyler (Pattinson) could get Ally (de Ravin) over to his dirt-cheap Brooklyn pad (another good-old-days phenomenon) he shares with the obnoxious Aidan (Tate Ellington). Ally hails from Queens and her dad (Chris Cooper) is a cop; Tyler’s father (Pierce Brosnan) is a Wall Street power attorney with megalomaniac tendencies. The story traces the angst that springs from Ally and Tyler’s social imbalance while unearthing family tragedies from both backgrounds.

Halfway into the film, the whole thing begins to feel remote in its convoluted self-importance. But as the summer draws to a close, Coulter pushes the story over to an ending that’s unforgivably manipulative. Kind viewers may see this as an ode to The Way We Were; others may simply find it offensive. It’s amazing how something so pretty and vapid has the power to hurt.