51st Chicago International Film Festival Screening #15: “A Perfect Day” (Spain)

“A Perfect Day” (Spain)
Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa

a-perfect-dayOy, this movie. Very funny. Very well-acted. And one of the most white-washed war movies you’ll ever see. Taking place somewhere in Bosnia, during the latter stages of the war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, this film tells the story of a handful of U.N. aid workers over the course of 24 hours or so. Alas, in the eyes of the director, these aid workers seem to be the only people smart enough to know anything about, well, anything – lucky for those poor, helpless Bosnian folks – and these workers have hearts of gold as big as Texas, to boot. Ugh.

If the point of this film is to instruct us how small a relief worker’s sphere of influence is in the middle of one of the most vicious conflicts in modern history, it fails miserably. In fact, one of the biggest plot points revolves around what color furniture one of the workers should get when they get home. Yes, I’m aware it’s MEANT to show incongruity…but the director completely forgot to juxtapose it against anything. And the one single moment of honest, realistic horror can be seen coming about 30 kilometers away.

The female characters are generally stuck in a “save me, you big strong man” plot. However, they do serve what must be the director’s purpose…which is to say they’re lovely to look at. And even when they ARE given the opportunity to establish themselves as strong characters, their attempts to challenge the male establishment are met with…you guessed it…a roll of the eyes and a knowing look between the the big, strong men.

BUT, at its best, it is a hilarious road movie thanks to Mr. Timothy Robbins, in a return to the silliness that so defined his earlier roles. And del Toro is as human as we’ve ever seen him – even when it does not serve the film. And, as you would imagine, the shots of the Balkan countryside are as beautiful, and as lonely, as I remember when I got lost meandering through western Montenegro a decade ago.

But here’s the thing…when I drove those roads, it was quite evident, even ten years after the last shot was fired, that this was a particularly vicious, unspeakable, and tremendously sad chapter in the Balkan’s centuries old, and war-torn, history. Yet, as I walked out of the theater, I overheard the following: “OMG, that was hilarious. What war was that supposed to be about…something about Serbia, right? It was a big deal, right? Yeah, I never got what that war was about.” Ugh.

Okay, so maybe it shouldn’t be on the director to teach us about the historical origins of a war. And a director SHOULD  be able to make a funny film that comments on the hell and absurdity that is war. In fact, there are several great films that do just that…

…but “A Perfect Day” simply forgot to make a comment.

Written on 10/30/2015

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