Netflix Films You Should See – A Perfect Day

March 19, 2018

(Image by MediaPro)

Aid Workers Get Their Day

Review by Patrick Doyle

 

A few dozen wind-beaten civilians clutching plastic buckets stand around a well, hours into their wait. The only other reservoirs in the area have been laid with land mines. Someone has thrown a corpse into this one. Mambrú (Benicio del Toro), an aid worker, handles the fraying rope harnessed to the dead man as his translator pulls up the body with their mud-spattered truck. The rope snaps. The body falls. And there is no more rope to be found.

So begins A Perfect Day, a 2015 darkly comedic drama set in 1995, during what Mambrú’s UN superiors call the waning days of the Yugoslav Wars. Mambrú’s organization is considering pulling him and his colleagues out.  A ceasefire has been called, after all. Never mind the trucks of political prisoners taken by a supposedly demobilized Yugoslavian militia, the swathes of crumbling, bombed-out buildings, and the landmines traps set into country roads.

The film alternates between scenes of deep tension and pitch-black humor, with an absurdist streak running through the center. The aid workers are well-intentioned but hapless, impeded by simmering local resentments, U.N. bureaucracy, and the whims of fate. They travel from lead to lead in search of an elusive coil of rope, cracking bitter jokes, but rarely making any headway.

(Image by MediaPro)

A Perfect Day doesn’t show the wider effects of the war. There are no pitched gunfights, no glimpse into the geopolitics of the conflict. Instead, subtly and thoughtfully, it examines how the conflict has affected the people on the ground. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give the film is that it feels authentic. One particular detail, the way combatants drag animal carcasses into the center of the road, laying mines on one side but not the other as a trap, worked particularly well to establish the feel. The film looks at a war that I had never thought about, much less experienced first-hand, and makes it vivid.

Del Toro’s supporting cast includes Tim Robbins’s jokester B, Mélanie Thierry’s wet behind the ears Sophie, and Eldar Residovic’s Nikola, a Slavic boy who wants little more than to collect the soccer ball Mambrú promised him. Robbins is the standout, delivering a youthfully mischievous performance that occasionally shows the character’s exhaustion beneath.

The setting is gorgeous and desolate. Alex Catalán, the film’s cinematographer, makes the world look lived-in and crumbling. A beautiful scene about halfway way through the film sees Mambrú and Sophie delving into a bombed-out house, searching through its former inhabitant’s dusty belongings as light filters in through a collapsed roof.

(Image by MediaPro)

That isn’t to say that there aren’t problems. The female characters are badly served. Sophie has a small arc but serves mostly as the butt of the men’s jokes. The romance between Mambrú and Katya (Olga Kurylenko) is both underdeveloped and less engaging than its surroundings. Katya never feels like a real person, instead existing in the same space as so many of films’ other crazy ex-girlfriend characters.

Despite that, the things that A Perfect Day accomplishes, it does well. A Perfect Day is currently streaming on Netflix. If you like black comedies or war movies with unconventional protagonists, I would highly recommend checking it out.

My rating:  8/10

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