DirectorFernando Leon de Aranoa
Release Date(s)2015 (July 19, 2016)
Studio(s)IFC Films/MPI Media Group
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s A Perfect Day (2015) is an admirably restrained look at relief workers in a war zone, a movie that blends humor and horror but doesn’t force either – in fact, if anything it’s so laid back that it never quite generates the energy that it should. Despite the director’s claim that it’s a “punk rock” movie, it essentially moves along at an even, pleasantly modulated tone that achieves most of its entertainment value via the extremely strong performances; an international cast consisting of Benicio Del Toro, Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko, Melanie Thierry and others anchors the film and gives it weight whenever it feels in danger of drifting off into pointlessness. (The fact that De Aranoa has experience in war zones as a documentarian and thus knows just which details to focus in on adds to the film’s effectiveness as well.)
The raw materials from which de Aranoa builds his narrative (adapted from a novel by Paula Farias) contain the potential for a much more extreme film than the director has actually created. A Perfect Day tells the story of a group of relief workers in the Balkans in 1995 who deal with both the violence of life in a combat zone and the tedium of bureaucratic red tape – one of the ironies of the film is that, isolated from the rest of the world, the two irritants bleed together and carry more or less equal weight in the humanitarians’ lives. There’s a certain amount of wry humor, particularly in terms of the Tim Robbins character, which feels carried over from Robert Altman’s MASH.
A Perfect Day isn’t as angry as MASH though, and it lacks the brutality of something like Welcome to Sarajevo or the romanticism of Under Fire – it’s more a matter of fact, “this is how it is” account of aid workers doing their jobs. What little plot there is comes from a somewhat contrived romance between Kurylenko’s bureaucrat and Del Toro’s security specialist; other than that, the movie doesn’t try to build much of a plot around its realistically mounted depiction. Most of the story simply follows the aid workers as they try to retrieve a body that has been placed in a well to contaminate the local water supply – it seems like a simple endeavor, but over the course of the movie it becomes a tragic comedy of errors as the rescue workers struggle to achieve simple goals like finding rope.
De Aranoa uses this situation as a metaphor for the absurdity of war in general, a conceit that works even if it doesn’t really say anything new. The end result is a well done but modest effort, a movie that’s more pleasing and respectable than truly involving or provocative. Nevertheless, the cast is consistently excellent, and the sun-blasted cinematography looks great on IFC’s perfectly modulated Blu-ray transfer. The DTS 5.1 mix offers a powerful balance between dialogue, effects, and the sometimes jarring punk rock music that scores the action – its immersive quality adds to the documentary effect De Aranoa is trying to achieve. Unfortunately, the extras aren’t particularly illuminating: there’s a 12-minute making-of documentary, a 3-minute featurette on the cast, and about 18 minutes of cast and crew interviews, all of which are superficial EPK kind of stuff. The interviews are lightweight to begin with, and the fact that they’re recycled across the featurettes makes the supplemental features feel even more disposable. That said, the movie itself is a worthy dramedy that deserves to be more widely seen than it has been thus far given the top-notch acting and sense of journalistic detail.
- Jim Hemphill