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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

A Perfect Day movie review: war is hellacious

A Perfect Day green light

This compact little satire — set in 1990s Balkans — is a small, personal story about huge unfairnesses and injustices. Bleakly, bitterly, blackly funny.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The title of the film is, ironically, the least ironic bit of absurdity four humanitarian aid workers confront in this bleakly bitter black comedy set in the Balkans in 1995. (One unintentional bit of bleakness: the reminder that 1995 is 20 years ago.) The three veterans — Mambrú (Benicio Del Toro: Sicario, Guardians of the Galaxy), B (Tim Robbins: Welcome to Me, Life of Crime), and Katya (Olga Kurylenko: The Water Diviner, Oblivion) — may come from very different parts of planet Earth, but they are united in their comparative privilege, relative to this one small desolate place that seems determined to destroy itself, and in their shared snarky sense of humor, a requirement of surviving this place and something they will attempt to pass on the the newbie, Sophie (Mélanie Thierry: The Zero Theorem, Babylon A.D.).

This day-in-their-life starts with the discovery of a bloated body in a well, which is a problem because the well is the only source of clean water for nearby villagers, so the dead guy really needs to be removed ASAP… but UN rules expressly forbid aid workers from handling corpses. Not that this will stop the likes of Mambrú and B, but they have no rope to retrieve the body, and so they set off on a quest to find some: this becomes an adventure that demands they negotiate a bureaucracy as bloated as the dead guy, roads full of cleverly disguised landmines, and their own complicated relationships, which also tend to the explosive, because this is the sort of life-and-death milieu in which people do crazy impulsive things, like have affairs.

This is a small, personal story about huge unfairnesses and injustices — one subplot involves a local boy’s search for a new soccer ball that is immediately stolen by big-kid bullies, which is a microcosm for much of what is happening around all of them on a massive scale — and the wonderful cast infuses their frustrations with a passion for righting them, even as they realize the futility of this; they do a remarkable job of making their work look, somehow, exciting and tedious and exasperating and essential all at the same time. Spanish filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa — working from a novel by Paula Farias that does not appear to have been translated into English, though the film is English-language — has made a smart, compact little satire, one that is exceedingly satisfying in how it paints war itself as inherently ridiculous.

viewed during the 59th BFI London Film Festival


green light 4 stars

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A Perfect Day (2016)
US/Can release: Jan 15 2016 (VOD same day)

MPAA: rated R for language including some sexual references

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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  • LaSargenta

    …I will be looking to see this movie.

    A friend went off to drive a truck for MSF during the Balkan War shortly before the time this movie is set in.

  • I’d be curious to hear what he thinks of the film. The woman who wrote the novel it’s based on was a doctor and aid worker with MSF.

  • LaSargenta

    I’d be, too. Unfortunately, I lost touch with him quite a few years ago (both nomadic, easy to have happen) and I can’t find a contact for him.

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