Film review: The Big Day – globetrotting documentary paints manipulative picture of poor children
Rather than simply observing and recording what happens, this movie seems to stage some agonising interactions that actually undermine its authenticity
In The Big Day, French filmmaker Pascal Plisson scours the Earth for a quartet of passionate yet impoverished children, each of whom is embarking on potentially life-changing challenges.
Instead of an effortlessly life-affirming enterprise, chronicling everyday triumphs and tragedies against spectacular backdrops, this spiritual sequel to his award-winning documentary On the Way to School proves to be a contrived, manipulative and wholly insincere exercise.
Albert, from Havana, Cuba, is 11 years old, and hopes to escape his broken home by boxing his way to a place at the city’s prestigious sports academy. In the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator, Deegii, also 11, trains for several hours a day to become a professional contortionist.
Then there’s 19-year-old Tom, desperately cramming for the Ranger exams at the Uganda Wildlife Training Institute, while in Benares, India, 15-year-old Nidhi applies to be one of just 30 students accepted into the elite Super 30 prep school.
In every case, success will separate these children from their loved ones, but would also be an unprecedented academic achievement within their family.
Rather than simply observing events as they occur, however, the documentary film looks like it forces its principals and their families into a series of agonising, staged interactions that completely undermine its own authenticity.
Add to that a regrettable lack of charisma from the students themselves – Albert’s cocky best friend and self-proclaimed “best trainer in Cuba” is criminally sidelined – and a distinct lack of drama in how events unfold, and The Big Day reveals itself to be little more than shameless exploitation.
The Big Day opens on April 6
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook