A PERFECT DAY —with much of the World’s attention forced to focus on the intransigent Mid-east mayhem, this bite-sized 2015 dramedy takes a stethoscope to the torn hearts of those other fractious cousins to the north, the Balkans.*
1995: peace seems poised to put a toe back into the blood-stained mountains as another epoch of neighbor-murdering staggers to an exhausted intermission. Working under and around the U.N., a determined group of civilian aid workers try to avoid indiscriminate land mines and equally lethal touchy sensibilities while restoring damaged water and sanitation facilities. There’s a dead fat guy in a well. Locating a usable rope to haul him out is the simple issue plot of the 106 minutes, but the telling is in the details.
While a sextet of characters make casual banter leavened with gallows humor, they roam a physically stunning, psychically seared landscape riddled with the consequence buckshot of civil war. Veteran team leader Benecio Del Toro keeps a bemused but steady rein on his group: conflict junkie and jokester Tim Robbins, sensitive newbie Mélanie Thierry and critical mission evaluator Olga Kurylenko (also his ex-lover—one of them). Along for the rope & drag are local guide/interpreter Fedja Štukan and stray little boy Eldar Residovic.
With the dramatic vistas around Spain’s Andalusia doubling for “somewhere in the Balkans”, director Fernando León de Aranoa does an exemplary, economical job suggesting the quiet cost of carnage without employing a single gunshot or explosion. There’s one body (in the well) and two fallen cows, otherwise the damage done is conveyed in the art direction of battered and abandoned villages and most tellingly in the wary manner and skeptical faces of the victimized civilians. Follow granny!
For his first English-language feature, Aranoa co-wrote the funny and subtle script with Diego Farias, adapting from a novel, “Dejarse Llover”, by Paula Farias, a doctor and ex-president of Doctors Without Borders. Paula worked in the Balkans as well as numerous other destinations of desperation like Afghanistan, Darfur and Congo. She is also Diego’s sister.
The cast is excellent, Del Toro and Thierry getting the better of the roles, his shouldering calm and charismatic strength with a good-nature, hers blending hesitancy and pluck into dawning recognition of the futility and necessity of their work. Robbins gets the sassiest lines, but he wisely keeps it in check. Kurylenko’s given the least to work with (but she does it well). Štukan charms effortlessly. Good alternate-rock soundtrack. The ending is, well, perfect.
*Grudges endure for centuries in some corners. Maybe it’s a few millennia of being trampled over by assorted empires, maybe it’s something in the water (cue Fatty in the well) but you can always depend on the ravines of southeastern Europe to light a powderkeg when the yogurt spoils. People who’ve lived side by side for generations suddenly decide that ambush in the peach orchard back in 1287 calls for retribution and the beauties of the Adriatic get put on hold until Honor has sufficiently soaked the pastures red. Movies in and about the regions recent troubles include Welcome To Sarejevo, No Man’s Land, The Whistleblower, In The Land Of Blood And Honey and Savior (skip the idiotic Behind Enemy Lines). The trauma of WW2 is suggested on a massive scale in The Battle Of Neretva.