Two things that rarely go in the same sentence together are Benicio del Toro and comedy. Of course I’m not excluding The Collector from Guardians of the Galaxy, Frankie Four Fingers from Snatch or Dr. Gonzo from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but what I’m saying is that it happens so little that when you mention he is in one you stand back and go “Really?” The acclaimed Academy award winner is known for his understated intensity, something we’ve loved about him ever since we first saw him get a notable role. For some it might have been the villainous henchmen Dario in the James Bond film Licence to Kill or even the iconic film The Usual Suspects in the role of the ill fated Fenster. For me it was a comedy and an oddball, of which the likes I’m sure we’ll never see Del Toro in again, Big Top Pee-Wee. Well, his new film A Perfect Day is far from that sort of comedy, but definitely a satisfying laugh out loud sort of movie.
A Perfect Day is about a quartet of aid workers in the former Yugoslavia in the end times of the ethnic conflicts fought from 1991 to 2001. Mambrú (Benicio del Toro) leads the team with other veteran and aging wild child punk rocker B (Tim Robbins). Rounding out their team is an interpreter, Damir (Fedja Štukan) and very green but idealistic rookie Sophie (Mélanie Thierry). Together the four are about to experience a couple of days together that will almost encapsulate their entire time in the war torn country.
The film starts off showcasing the central problem. A large man’s body has been dumped into one of the three major fresh water wells of the area’s villages. When Mambrú and Damir’s first attempt to retrieve the body fails and snaps the rope, the immediate need is to find more rope as soon as possible, a predicament that is far more difficult than it seems. With the merchants in the surrounding area staunch against doing anything to anger whoever put the body in the well and the United Nations citing that the removal of the body violates their sanctions, Mambrú finds himself in a moral quandary.
To make the situation that much worse, while visiting base camp Mambrú is forced to bring Katya (Olga Kurylenko), a member of the head office who’s purpose is to shut down their operation. Adding to that whirlwind of problems is that Katya and Mambrú were former lovers who’s relationship ended on very bad terms. This causes an awkward tension that threatens to boil over during the worst times of the current predicament. This all has an effect on Mambrú’s very real want to leave this whole life behind and start a new path.
The added benefit to Benicio doing this film is the small cast assembled around him, notably Tim Robbins whose comedic timing is always proved time and time again. His loose cannon brashness immediately puts him at odds with the newcomer Sophie at the beginning of the film and his lazy nihilism really cracks me up throughout. Just the sheer greatness of these two brilliant character actors playing off each other is worth the admission alone and, really, all the supporting actors playing off this just makes everyone look great in this film in the long run. The personality in this script gives it all a great cohesion.
This film marks the English language debut of writer and director Fernando León de Aranoa and, although the simplicity and drawn out nature of the story may deter a lot of viewers, his attention to character interaction while keeping a direct anchor to the landscape it’s playing on is absolutely impeccable. The dark comedy of this film works so well and plays as a main theme throughout the movie. Humor is a consistency throughout the area that these workers live in, but the type of humor differs from region to region as our characters go through them. There’s a particular scene where B and Damir approach a tense looking roadblock and B makes a car wash crack that ends up softening the situation. The question is if this were the other side of the country would this have gone over differently?
I think one of the more refreshing things about A Perfect Day is that we really don’t see many of these types of films, being a slightly comedic look at a group of people trying to make one piece of the world a better place. While bringing a very human tale including the subtle nuances of relationships and morals, we still get an overarching commentary on the constraints of helping a country in need and where exactly the roadblocks are when it comes to aid and relief. As always the bureaucracy rears it’s ugly head to stop things that are sorely needed in it’s tracks.
Seeing this film at Vancouver International Film Festival last year, it was one that I was very much looking forward to and one that definitely satisfied me, one of the best I saw that day. Watching it again before it’s release for the mass public only cemented my true feelings for this movie. It’s simple, dialogue driven and a wonderful showcase for two actors that are an absolute treat to watch anytime they appear on screen. On a second viewing I fell in love with this movie and I give it a four out of five.