“A Perfect Day,” in theaters January 15th, is based on the book “Dejarse Llover” by Paula Farias, (which I now want to read), and is the English-language debut of director Fernando León de Aranoa. Fueled by an excellent soundtrack (X, The Buzzcocks, Gogol Bordello, Lou Reed), it stars Benicio Del Toro as Mambrú and Tim Robbins as B, two irreverent, veteran aid workers “somewhere in the Balkans” in 1995. Together with a feisty new recruit Sophie (Melanie Thierry) and weary translator Damir (Fedja Stukan), they find themselves thwarted again and again as they try to remove from a village well a dead body that is rapidly contaminating the water.
The team is joined by the steely Katya (Olga Kurylenko), much to Mambrú’s dismay, since the two previously had an affair, and she informed his wife. She now holds the dubious title of Conflict Evaluator, and must be convinced to take the team’s side on the well-clearing, since bureaucratic red tape and tentative peace agreements get in the way. The group of them have terrible luck, regardless, just trying to find rope they can use to pull the body out.
Roads are blocked by dead cows that are cover for well-hidden mines; kid bullies pull guns out of nowhere over a soccer ball; shops refuse to sell foreigners rope; unscrupulous locals show up to extort the villagers for bottles of water. Despite the steady humor – Robbins’s baked expression is great, and his radio banter/rant about a rope-less town is hilarious – it really comes across how difficult it can be to get even one thing done in such complicated situations. The humor doesn’t hide the horror of a war zone either, as Sophie eventually stumbles across a couple murdered by their own neighbors.
There are many nice touches throughout: Mambrú’s friendship with the boy Nikola, an elderly lady who avoids mines by following her trusty cows, Damir’s comment that the area is known for “yogurt and sense of humor.” (“Even the babies here are born laughing.”) The movie reminds you just how amazing it is that people dedicate their lives to this often frustrating but meaningful work. And that some of them probably are racing around, blasting punk rock and terrifying the rookies. Highly recommended.