A Look At Humanitarian Efforts In The 1995 Balkan Conflict
DIRECTOR: FERNANDO LE´ON DE ARANOA/2016
Son of Saul, another film opening this week, is a new film featuring a filmmaker making his feature length debut. A Perfect Day features a director, Fernando León de Aranoa, who is making his English speaking film debut after a number of Spanish films like Barrio and Prencesas. Where the first film mentioned is a look at the Holocaust, this film also features a war theme, albeit with a slightly different lens.
A Perfect Day depicts a 24 hour period where relief workers in the 1995 Balkans conflict are tasked with removing an extremely obese man’s corpse from one of only three known mine-free wells. Seeking to remove the body before it contaminates the water source, these relief workers must simply find a good rope to help lift the body out of the well. In so doing, they find themselves surrounded by the realities and politics of war.
The cast is impressive as it features Benicio Del Toro (Sicario, Guardians of the Galaxy), Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption, Bull Durham), Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion, The Water Diviner), Fedja Stukan (In the Land of Blood and Honey), and Mélanie Thierry (The Zero Theorem, Babylon A.D.). Each of the cast members elevates a script that otherwise would not be as fully engaging as it is under their care.
Benicio Del Toro plays Mambrú, the head of security of this outfit who has been here a long time, and has seen so much that nothing fazes him. Despite this, he is planning on leaving in a matter of days to join his American girlfriend back in the states and settle into a domestic life, away from all of this death. Complicating things, however, is the arrival of his ex-lover Katya (Kurylenko) who has arrived to audit their usefulness in the field and possibly shut them down.
Tim Robbins is the wacky, wild-card named “B”, who has been there so long, he is going to face the danger with nothing but humor, even it means freaking out the new face of the group Sophie (Thierry) by dealing with a possible mine-trapped road by doing a very risky stunt. Rounding out the team is their translator Damir (Stukan) who puts up with each of their idiosyncrasies plays the straight man to them all.
The film has a compelling tale to tell as we follow this teams search for a rope to lift this body out.
Through their day journey, we get the difficulties and delays of navigating a war torn nation such as this, as well as the political roadblocks that come up through the United Nations in spite of everyone there wanting to help the situation, and the people of this region.
The most impactful side-story involves a young boy named Nikola (Eldar Residovic) who Mambrú picks up after seeing him bullied for his soccer ball. It is through this interaction that the realities of war become real, even to those workers like Mambrú, B, and Katya, who have seen it all in their time served in the field. It is a few tender moments like these that become the glue that holds this whole thing together as otherwise the direction tries to play things too cavalier with the humor of the film, while the cinematography and delivery from the cast seems to want to make this a more “day in the life” kind of feel. While the humor works at times to provide some levity and to humanize the aid workers, too often it feels like it is being used to make the film feel “cool”. Fortunately the cast is able to mitigate this problem and force more balance on the finished product than the script would provide if left alone to its own devices.
Fernando León de Aranoa, in his first English language film, has delivered a quality film around a subject that very few know much about despite it being more recent history than say the Holocaust of World War II, as is depicted in Son of Saul. The cinematography brings a beauty to the landscape that is able to shine through, even in spite of war and exploitation by a few individuals against their own people. Aranoa displays a good grasp of what could work, but is never able to really bring all of the components of subject matter, humor, character development, and setting into a compelling whole. That being said, the film still is able to be an enjoyable romp with a charismatic enough cast to bring it across the finish line. With A Perfect Day being a smaller film playing in smaller indie-theaters, it may be a perfect way for Fernando León de Aranoa to introduce himself with the English speaking audience and shake off any factors that may affect him in future efforts. He is a competent film maker, even if A Perfect Day isn’t all that perfect.