Tuesday, November 22, 2022

May You Have “A Perfect Day”

Benicio del Toro, Tim Robbins, and a host of international actors I’ve never heard of. Sometimes it’s fun to watch a movie about which you know nothing. That certainly was the case when I aired 2015’s A Perfect Day, directed (and co-written) by Fernando León de Aranoa in an English-language adaptation from a Spanish novel. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, “a perfect day” seemed like a timely idea.

 The day that plays out in this fascinating film is hardly perfect. We find ourselves in a random part of Croatia, where war is splitting apart the former nation of Yugoslavia. In theory, at least, the hostilities are nearly over, but that fact doesn’t call a halt to the random bombings and other hostilities that are pitting neighbor against neighbor. The film’s central players are humanitarian aid workers, some experienced and one brand-new, who are trying their darndest to protect the locals from one another. Crisis #1: a rather large man has been killed and then tossed into a well. It's too late for him, but his decaying corpse is sure to contaminate the villagers’ precious water supply.

 The film’s opening credits are, quite dramatically, set against attempts to tie a rope around the body and then hoist it from the well before any more harm is done. Alas—the rope breaks, and the aid workers’ desperate search for a stronger one proves futile. (Locals just don’t trust this international group of do-gooders, even when promised generous compensation.) A kid offers a rope that turns out to be tied to a vicious dog, and before the film is out we’ll find that rope can show up in other disturbing circumstances as well. It will take until the fade-out to solve the problem of the man in the well, and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the surprise.

 The aid workers are led by the crusty del Toro, who dreams of going home, and by the maniacal Robbins, a joker-type who seems to be working overseas because he’ll never make good in the country of his birth. Assisting them is Mélanie Thierry, a French water and sanitation expert who’s brand-new on the job but is already trying to process the viewing of her first corpse. A temporary member of the contingent is Olga Kurylenko, a gorgeous Slav who was once the del Toro character’s lover. (When he notes that she looks different from what he remembers, she wryly notes that now she has clothes on.) 

 The gallows humor that is laced throughout the film is reminiscent of M*A*S*H, both the 1970 film and the long-running TV series about an American medical unit near the front lines of the Korean War.. The big difference is that these aid-worker characters are on neither side of the conflict. They don’t play favorites: their only goal is to preserve the health and safety of the war-battered people around them. But somehow this ends up meaning that they’re always personally facing danger from angry partisans, booby-trapped cows, and natural disasters exacerbated by the destruction of war. Even the American peace-keeping forces in the region make their work more difficult: military red tape is always stopping them from doing what needs to be done.

 As in M*A*S*H, battle-scarred men turn tender when faced with the plight of innocent children. Nikola is a small boy whose concern about a stolen soccer ball turns out to be a cover-up for his anguish over his parents’ fate. He too is gradually absorbed into the aid worker entourage, proving that these wisecracking tough guys do have hearts after all.


No comments:

Post a Comment