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2011 Heartland Film FestivalRating: 3 of 5 yaps

My Last Day Without You

He’s a German businessman who flew to New York City to lay off a company. She’s a beautiful secretary fired from the company who writes beautiful music. They meet by chance and spend the day together before he has to fly away. What sort of day will they have?

A rather lousy one, it turns out. That would make for an unexpected story, but the movie insists that this day is incredible — from the chauffeur who won’t stop ranting about how this is the greatest romance he has ever seen to every new character the German meets insisting he needs to change his life. Instead of letting the characters speak for themselves, the film constantly places judgments on them.

Niklas (Ken Duken) is criticized from beginning to end. He is not laughing like a Bond villain when he has to close a business; he is not obsessed with his expensive watch. All he has is a certain work ethic that placed him into a higher society, but this makes him an evil man. Even when he says that he doesn’t believe in the souls of the dead moving on, he is criticized.

Leticia (Nicole Beharie) starts off as a really sympathetic person. Her music is inspiration to the neighborhood, and she has a loving relationship with her pastor father (Reg E. Cathey from “The Wire”). She’s so unnecessarily cruel to Niklas for most of the movie that she lost my support — this despite “My Last Day Without You” being the greatest romance ever witnessed despite no romantic scenes, only romantic shots.

Despite having a number of problems with the core relationship, the film shows New York City in a way rarely seen. The filmmakers avoid all of the typical cinematic visuals and focus on a smaller community. Churches and streets have a more homely feel that separate themselves from the busyness of the city. Co-writer/director Stefan C. Schaefer avoids using grand romantic gestures by allowing circumstances to be more intimate between his lead characters. It allows the world to stay within a more realistic grounding, but the structure betrays it at the end.

There are a number of ways their paths could have crossed and affected each other, leading to a number of different endings. This conclusion doesn’t seem to connect with where the characters were heading. It goes for a more topical version of “Before Sunrise,” but it just doesn’t get there.

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