A Perfect Day (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): The trouble with a well

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Leisurely alternating between comedy and drama, “A Perfect Day” works as an absurd farce about war and its tragic mess. While its story and background are specific, those human absurdities of war depicted in the film feel universal in many aspects, and we come to admire its main characters’ dogged determination to get their simple job done – even when we cannot help but amused by a number of loony situations which block them and frustrate them a lot.

They are aid workers who are the members of a nongovernmental organization called Aid Across Borders, and the movie begins with their latest matter to be handled in some rural area in the Balkans, 1995. A corpse was purposefully dropped into a well important for many residents in that area, so Mambrú (Benicio Del Toro), who is from Puerto Rico as mentioned in the film, is trying to lift the body out of the well before it seriously contaminates the well, but, alas, the job turns out to be more difficult than expected. Because of the considerable weight of that body, the rope connected to that body is cut off during the process, and there is no other rope around the well.

Not long after this annoying failure, Mambrú’s quirky colleague, nicknamed “B” (Tim Robbins) arrives with a young doctor named Sophie (Mélanie Thierry), who are not so amused by several unpleasant things as your typical rookie character. Although the conflict which has ravaged the Balkans is approaching to the end after cease-fire, there are still many possibilities of danger around the region, and that aspect is exemplified well by when B and Sophie happen to encounter the carcass of a dead animal while going to the well by their vehicle. Because it is quite possible that a mine is buried somewhere around the carcass, they may have to make a detour, but then B comes to execute a rather simple solution to their situation, and that is one of the most amusing moments in the film.

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Along with a local translator named Damir (Fedja Stukan), B looks around here and there for finding any rope long and strong enough for the body, but they only find themselves repeatedly blocked by absurd situations. Local people are uncooperative as they are wary of getting themselves into any trouble, and the UN army does not help much either while adamantly sticking to rules and regulations. When Mambrú and Sophie comes to a UN army base, they soon become more frustrated as they are instructed not to do anything about the well, and we are not so surprised when Sophie comes to attempt to do something about that frustrating circumstance.

Meanwhile, Mambrú has to deal with Katya (Olga Kurylenko), with whom he had an affair not so long ago. Although she comes mainly for evaluating the ongoing situation in the Balkans, it is evident from their interaction that there are still some feelings left between them, and they have to deal with their feelings as they come to spend considerable time along with Sophie, B, and Damir.

And there is a little local boy named Nikola (Eldar Residovic), who accidently encountered Mambrú and Sophie when they were going to the UN base. Because he can speak English quite well, Nikola later tells Mambrú and others that there is a place where they can find a rope good enough for them, but, of course, that rope turns out to be not so easy to obtain for a good reason, and we get another absurd moment to tickle us.

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While naturally reminiscent of “MASH” (1970) and other similar war movies, the movie does not overlook the horror and tragedy of war as shown from its several dark moments. At one point, it looks around a ruinous place which was once a nice family home, and then there comes an understated but gut-wrenching moment to strike us. When Mambrú and his colleagues come across a makeshift military checkpoint, they see a group of captured people, but there is nothing they can do about that – and they know it too well.

The main performers in the movie are convincing in their respective roles while imbuing their characters with life and personality. Effortlessly embodying his character’s world-weary attitude right from his first scene, Benicio Del Toro gives another engaging performance to watch, and I like how he humbly conveys the quiet sincerity behind his character’s seasoned appearance. Although he looks a little too goofy at first, Tim Robbins is gradually endearing in his whimsical performance, and he effectively complements Del Toro’s phlegmatic acting. While her role is rather thankless in comparison, Olga Kurylenko, who has steadily shown more of her talent since “Quantum of Solace” (2008), also gives a solid performance, and Mélanie Thierry brings considerable spirit to her character. In case of Fedja Stukan and Eldar Residovic, they hold their own places well among their more prominent co-performers, and I appreciate how the movie handles their characters and other local supporting characters with care and respect.

“A Perfect Day” is based on Paula Farias’ novel “Dejarse Llover”. Although I did not read the novel, I can tell you instead that director Fernando León de Aranoa, who adapted the novel for his film, did an adequate job on the whole. The plot often meanders, and it could have been sharper in its satire, but the movie does not lose its comic momentum thanks to its competent direction and good performance, and it will eventually arrive at a poetic finale more satisfying than expected. It is surely another frustrating day for them, but they keep trying, don’t they?

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