Well-intentioned yet largely forgettable, Fernando León de Aranoa’s Goya Award nomination sweeper A Perfect Day blends humanitarian manifesto filmmaking with diluted dramedy that barely qualifies as entertainment. Set in 1995 “somewhere in the Balkans,” a man named Mambrú (Benicio Del Toro) leads a ragtag team of relief workers charged with assisting in the cleanup of the war-torn region, currently in a state of ceasefire. Whether they’re recovering corpses or cleaning out flooded latrines, there is no task too unimportant for this crew of aid workers, each of whom know the only way to mentally persevere is by finding meaning in such selfless slogging. If only A Perfect Day didn’t feel the need to compensate for its depressing milieu with awkwardly handled comedic beats, it might have been worthy of its philanthropic aspirations.
What’s fascinating about A Perfect Day is how the most basic of dilemmas become the biggest of obstacles. You’d never imagine that simply prying a body from a well to avoid contaminating the water supply could result in the most daunting of missions, but the crew’s entire goal in the film is just that. The United Nation’s military presence refuses to sign off on this crucial undertaking, much to the chagrin of Mambrú’s team, particularly its newest member, Sophie (Mélanie Thierry). Altruistic and dead-set on making a difference, Sophie is A Perfect Day’s biggest delight, though she’s treated as little more than a naive nuisance by everyone around her. Arrogant, obnoxiously machismo and convinced his one-liners are more vital to the group than a nice hot shower, Tim Robbins’s “B” is the worst kind of hyper-masculine comic relief. Every time he makes an appearance, or utters something that begins profoundly and then turns crass, it becomes difficult to refrain from groaning aloud.
The poorly-written characters don’t end at “B.” The crew’s interpreter, Damir (Fedja Stukan), has more sass and impudence than any professional in that field I’ve encountered on film. Olga Kurylenko pops up in a needless role as Katya, a former lover of Mambrú’s that seems to take pleasure in home-wrecking and causing intense sexual anxiety. Katya is there to write a report on the efficacy of the team, which sounds like a pretty bogus job conveniently created to give the film some romantic bite. But the hackneyed characterizations don’t end there – no sirree! Considering this is Fernando León de Aranoa’s English-language debut, I so hoped he wouldn’t fall victim to the pitfall character trope that plagues many a Hollywood movie: the downtrodden child who annoyingly winds up becoming the center of attention. When adult characters suddenly end their respective arcs just to indulge the needs of a kid, that’s when you know a movie needs a script revision. Eldar Residovic as Nikola is plenty impressive as a child actor, but for the love of all that is acceptable in cinema, his screen time needed to be drastically shortened.
In terms of quality, A Perfect Day may be far removed from its title, but I ultimately found myself respecting its narrative simplicity and humane spirit. There’s something to be said about a feature film that removes itself from the eye-popping violence of war and simply focuses on its quiet yet deeply tragic aftermath. The film’s conclusion beautifully hits home on the whole “it takes a village” idiom without burrowing its nose in it. Flawed by its overly forceful attempt to captivate, A Perfect Day is ultimately an imperfect but worthwhile dive into a part of history buried so deep that it nearly evaporated from memory.
Distributed by IFC Films, A Perfect Day is premiering at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas theater in Los Angeles this weekend beginning Friday, January 15th. The film, which also was a part of the “Director’s Fortnight” lineup at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, is now available on select VOD platforms. Check out the trailer below!