BFI London Film Festival: A Perfect Day

A Perfect Day

Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko, Mélanie Thierry and Fedja Stukan

by Joanna Orland

I was initially surprised when I read that this Balkan War set story starring Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins was classified as a comedy.  I mean, what’s funny about the Balkan War in the mid-90’s?  Is the director trying to pull off a M*A*S*H-like war set comedy with Benicio Del Toro in the lead?  It just didn’t make sense… Until the opening titles.

“Somewhere in the Balkans” in 1995, two veteran aid workers Mambrú (Del Toro) and B (Robbins) along with freshman Sophie (Thierry) and their translator Damir (Stukan) are doing their bit for humanitarian aid.  Their current mission is to remove a dead body, which is stuck down a well, within 24 hours before it contaminates the water.  Navigating the politics of the UN bureaucracy seems to be their biggest challenge as the UN have sent Katya (Kurylenko) to evaluate the value of the team’s work to determine whether or not they should be allowed to continue.  Their other challenge is to find some rope to haul the body out of the well.  Rope is something not easily come by somewhere in the Balkans in 1995.

The lack of rope is the first catalyst, sending B and Damir off on a supply mission for the luxury item.  Their travels take them through the Balkans where they encounter local residents and get a firsthand look at the effects of war.  Also on a mission for rope, Mambrú and Sophie have their own adventure picking up a young Balkan boy named Nikola on their journey.  Nikola eventually leads both pairs and Katya to his desolate hometown, where the atrocities of war are even more on display.

Again, this doesn’t sound like much of a comedy.  But it is, and its use of humour is brilliant.  The humour is completely natural as the aid workers and the locals use it to get through the hardships of their situation.  Not one joke or funny idea is contrived, all perfectly developed from within the setting and the narrative, really making the characters believable, three-dimensional and hilarious to watch.  Damir in particular even starts the film discussing the humour of the locals in the village and how it is what they are known for.  The humour never gets in the way of the story, in fact, it enhances it by not preaching about hardship, merely showing a slice of life in hard times, over a 24 hour period.

Funny, touching, real, A Perfect Day is nearly a perfect film.


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