The Great Day

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Great Day
"The film doesn't hold back from showing us how difficult the challenges involved are."

Some days are bigger than others. When you're young, this revelation can be overwhelming. You work towards something for years - perhaps as long as you can remember - and then all at once there arrives the moment on which everything seems to hinge, a moment that could decide your destiny. This documentary, made in partnership with UNESCO, meets four young people from around the world who are facing that moment.

Fifteen-year-old Nidhi Jha, from Benares, dreams of becoming an engineer. To achieve that, she has to pass India's Super 30 exam, which will allow her access to state funded further education. She's studying hard, spending every spare moment bent over her books. Her family are supportive, her father beaming with pride, but the clamour of life still goes on around her, testing her concentration. Can she make the cut?

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For 11-year-old Deegii Batjargal from Ulan Bator, the test is primarily physical. She dreams of running away with the circus, but unlike most children with that ambition, she's undertaking the serous hard work necessary to achieve it, working to become a contortionist. Gripping a balancing bar in her teeth, she stands on her hands, bending her back to stretch her legs down over her head. Her mother helps her pick out an outfit she loves, but there's still a shyness and emotional fragility about her that makes it harder to perform onstage. Can she build up her confidence, as well as her skills, in time to impress the people who matter?

In rural Uganda, 19-year-old Tom Ssekabira is fully focused on his love of great apes, especially chimpanzees. He's studying at Queen Elizabeth National Park, aiming to become a ranger. He's got ample confidence, a large, supportive family and what seems to be a genuine love of hard work, but he still has to get through the exam that will make all the difference.

In Cuba, another 11-year-old, Albert Ensasi Gonzalez Monteagudo, has his heart set on becoming an Olympic boxer. It's a lofty ambition and suffice to say that we don't see him win a gold medal here. We do see him training, however, and we meet the coach who believes he's got what it takes to get into Havana Sport Academy. Small as he is, his sport is more about swiftness and smarts than strength. There's something about Albert that holds real promise - if it all comes togeher on the day.

Young people the world over will relate to the emotions experienced here, and to the high hopes that drive the film's stars to work hard. Although it was made with the hope of inspiring more youngters and encouraging the funding of educational promgrammes, the film doesn't hold back from showing us how difficult the challenges involved are. It's not a simple patchwork of happy endings and easy solutions. The stories we see are complex and nuanced, though each of the young people clearly benefits from a lot of love and emotional support.

The Great Day will be most interesting to those facing similar turning points in their lives, and to adults who are themselves trying to be supportive but may have forgotten what it's like. It's a film of ups and downs. Deegii's insecurity is heartbreaking in places, Tom's modest joy a reminder of why the pursuit of such ambitions is worthwhile. Overall, this is a charmer of a film with a very serious point to make. Young people are worth our investment, and this film is worth yours.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2017
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Four young people face pivotal moments that could shape their lives.
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Director: Pascal Plisson

Starring: Nidhi Jha, Deegii Batjargal, Tom Ssekabira, Albert Ensasi Gonzalez Monteagudo

Year: 2017

Runtime: 126 minutes

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