“Many people hate foreigners because they come with war”
The Spanish dark comedy-drama A Perfect Day (Spanish: Un Día Perfecto, 2015), written and directed by Fernando León de Aramoa, is based on the novel Dejarse Llover (2005) by Paula Farias, which can be translated to “let it rain”. It was also the director’s English-language debut.
Set in former Yugoslavia at the end of the Yugoslav Wars, the film follows humanitarian aid workers Mambrú (Benicio del Toro), B (Tim Robbins), newcomer Sophie (Mélanie Thierry), local interpreter Damir (Fedja Štukan), and Mambrú‘s former lover Katya (Olga Kurylenko), as they set out to fish a dead body out of a well in one of the many rundown villages in the country. Their task is made impossible when the one and only rope they have to haul the corpse out snaps in half, sending them on a quest to find another. In the process, they run into problems with the of UN’s nonsensical bureaucracy, as well as the perils of a war-ravaged country.
The film is far from action-packed, but therein lies its appeal. Between the crackling tension of never quite expecting the right land mine to go off, and the characters’ witty back-and-forth remarks, it’s hard to be dispirited by the plot unfolding at a turtle’s pace. The very premise of the story, centred around the vexing impossibility of finding a piece of rope anywhere in the vast stretches of the country, is quite indicative of the kind of abstract humour we are subjected to.
Bureaucracy, an omnipresent tyrant huffing behind their shoulders, becomes a laughable obstacle in following through on the simplest of day-to-day tasks, drawing a stark reference to Joseph Heller’s satirical war novel Catch-22 (1961). Shifting alliances also play a role in upsetting the balance of the locals’ quiet existence, which seems to be the last thing on everyone’s mind. Perhaps that is why the story’s predominant lesson seems to be to learn to find joy in the little things.
Sophie’s self-righteousness, resulting from holding the moral high-ground, clashes with experience and the jaded observations of Mambrú and B, who move like ghosts and are as unperturbed by the sight of hanging corpses and rotting flesh as any war veteran. To dispel the solemnness of such a reality, the film thrives on the dynamism of situational humour, presenting numerous instances of comedic relief – embodied mainly by the characters themselves. The bickering and the knife-sharp tension between Mambrú and Katya also help to inject some vital benevolence into the storyline.
The stripped audio, with nothing but muttering voices and crunching glass beneath shuffling feet, submerges the film below a level of pounding eeriness that is only traceable when music does finally erupt, adding vigour to the simmering events. Aside from the consuming plot, the film is rich in artistically presented camera work, ripping its viewers from their seats and tugging them into the suspenseful world of corruption, misplaced sensitivity and hilarity. And as we witness in A Perfect Day, everything gets sorted out in the end – without the interefence of men.
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