A Perfect Day

2016-02-10 22:52

What it's about:

In conflict-torn Bosnia, a group of UN aid workers attempt to extract a corpse from a well that is poisoning the local water supply. They soon find out, however, that nothing is ever easy in a war zone as obstacle after obstacle builds up to prevent them from accomplishing even this most basic of tasks. 

What we thought:

Mixing nicely drawn characters with a focused story line and smart, funny dialogue, A Perfect Day is a fine look at a day in the life of a bunch of ordinary aid workers, trying their best to make a real difference in a climate that seems intent on doing anything it can to prevent that. It's also, unfortunately, somewhat less than the sum of its parts: never quite gelling into something as satisfying as it feels that it really should be.

It's hardly the first film to revisit the bloody Bosnian war of the 1990s, but its focus is noticeably different not just from other films set during that conflict but from most war films in general. Set during the final days of the war, we see next to no actual fighting but there are a number of scenes of the picturesque, if desolate, landscape (captured beautifully by cinematographer Alex Catalan) littered with ruins, discarded armaments, already half forgotten lives and, inevitably, a dead body or two. It also keeps its focus squarely away from the soldiers on both sides, concentrating instead on these half dozen UN aid workers and a handful of ordinary local folk – but most especially a young boy whom the team nearly run over as he flees a fight with a group of slightly older bullies.

It's a refreshing take on a war film and a truly empathetic tribute to those trying to instill some normalcy into a country devastated by conflict, but its uneasy balance of humour and tragedy means that A Perfect Day never quite reaches its goal of providing the real emotional resonance that the subject matter demands. And yet, the humour that comes almost entirely from the interactions of our main characters humanizes these people and their struggles and is therefore a crucial ingredient in what works about the film. 

The top notch international cast (Olga Kurylenko, Melanie Thierry, Fedja Stukan and wonderful, first-time Bosnian child-actor, Eldar Residovic) lead by Tim Robbins and Benicio Del Toro, on excellent form, all bring to life some wonderfully drawn characters that are defined almost entirely by their witty, often funny dialogue. Writer/ director Fernando Leon de Aranoa brings a European aesthetic to his first English-language film in both the way film looks and, more crucially, the way it moves, but his dialogue has all the sharpness of some of the best British and American screenwriters that ultimately gives the film a strong international flavour and more than your money's worth in terms of pure entertainment.    

It also never falls into outright hagiography, keeping its heroes as grounded and as flawed as they are heroic, and if you're looking for old fashioned jingoistic flag waving, you'd do well to look elsewhere. Indeed, despite the lightness of much of its tone and its refusal to give into either cheap exploitation or cheap sentimentality, it also boasts one of the most brilliantly, brutally, bitterly ironic final moments I've seen in a film in a long time that all but entirely undermines all that it spent the last 90-odd minutes building up. At least, if looked at from a certain point of view. 

And yet, for all that it gets very much right – and, as you can see, it gets plenty right – I just can't help but with that it moved me more. And, considering its subject matter, it really should have done. 

Read more on:    tim robbins  |  benicio del toro  |  movies

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