1995, somewhere in the Balkans. Aid Across Borders workers battle post-war UN bureaucracy when tasked with sanitizing the sole source of drinking water for a small mountain community. The culprit: a bloated corpse floating at the bottom of their well–curiously, the only fat guy in this undernourished town. So, yank the dead dude and throw in some chlorine tablets, right? Not so easy, when your only rope snaps and the nearest Home Depot is 5,000 kilometers away. Especially when you have a potential conspiracy working against you.
The generically titled, yet anything but ordinary “A Perfect Day” should’ve been called “How to Find Basic Necessities in a Third World Country”. A rope, a ball for a wayward youngster–items that we’d take for granted–prove challenging to locate. As the team searches, a flimsy peripheral drama finds project manager Mambrú (Benicio Del Toro) in close quarters with sexy conflict analyst Katya (Olga Kurylenko), with whom he’s had an on-and off-fling. Kurylenko’s character is paper-thin, but then, their volatile romance is far less critical to the plot than her authority to shut down their sanitation project. Provoking a sexual relapse between the two, career lifer “B” (the ultimate comic relief, Tim Robbins) insists that it would be in everyone’s best interest if Mambrú just threw Katya a quickie to relieve the tension. It’s something he seems to ponder, after a military diversion sends them up narrow, serpentine mountain roads into oblivion, where they’re delayed overnight by a strategically placed cow cadaver in the road–a trademark booby trap that would’ve sent a less experienced crew around the obstruction and into a minefield. (In an earlier scene, a maniacal Robbins treats one such bovine obstacle like a speed bump, to the screams of his terrified passenger).
But these kooksters all just want to do right by the locals in need, selfless individuals that just happen to carry some baggage. Some get more than they bargained for on the trip, but it’s just another day at the office for Mambrú and B. The rest of their group consists of newcomer Sophie (Mélanie Thierry), local translator Damir (Fedja Stukan) and young Nikola (Eldar Residovic), a perceptive boy whose developing relationship with Mambrú as a temporary father figure is the heart and soul of the film. Their quest for a rope puts them in some humorous situations–one such predicament finds the desired implement tethered to a ferocious dog–but the deserted town in which their pre-pubsesnt passenger lives also has a more unpleasant surprise in store for them.
“A Perfect Day”, from Spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa (of the upcoming “Escobar”), feels like we’re behind the scenes of some other contemporary war drama (I envisioned Del Toro and company driving up in the craft service truck for “Behind Enemy Lines”). We’re typically desensitized to such mundane tasks in favor of bigger plot developments, and understandably so. But Aranoa (who co-adapted from Dejarse Llover with its author Paula Farias) depends on them entirely to drive the narrative. Truly down-and-dirty, it’s also a classy, realistic little slice of humanitarian drama that approaches a ridiculous situation with humor, while its grimmer aspects are left mostly to suggestion. Fantastic aerial cinematography by Alex Catalán establishes its high production quality early and often. If “A Perfect Day” never quite locks down a tone (like its schizophrenic soundtrack, which varies from aggressively nondescript, dorky dad blues/rock to Marilyn Manson’s morbid version of “Sweet Dreams”), it’s at least refreshingly optimistic entertainment, even when their effort begins to prove futile.
— M. Parsons
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