A newspaper headline I read this week stated: Missiles hit children’s hospital. Next to it was a picture of a smiling woman alongside Spectre’s James Bond Aston Martin. The car was about to go on auction and was expected to raise between £1 million and £1.5 million. The incongruence of these two stories right next to each other in the newspaper forms a good picture for the message A Perfect Day tries to portray. Set “somewhere in the Balkans” (as the opening subtitle announces), A Perfect Day shows the daily struggle ordinary people in a war zone face just to live. The aid workers who come in to help these people – from Europe and the Americas – represent countries where life is “normal”, a state which simply cannot be achieved in this dried out, half-ruined place.
The opening scene is filmed from the bottom of a well. In the water floats the bloated body of a man. Foreign Aid workers B (Tim Robbins), Mambrú (a well-cast Benicio Del Toro) and Sophie (Mélanie Thierry) try to remove the body from the well but the frayed old rope they are using snaps. What ensues is a long, ridiculous attempt by the workers to find more rope to extract the man from the well before he infects the water. Their efforts make up the bulk of the story, highlighting along the way the effects of war on civilians, the mindless bureaucracy of aid organisations, and the ludicrous inefficiencies of the UN.
But it’s not all misery and angst. There is humour too. Some of it rather silly and drawn out, an aspect of A Perfect Day I didn’t enjoy. But other humour is put to good use. The locals, an interpreter informs the aid workers, laugh all the time at everything – a coping mechanism, I imagine, as life here is not very humorous. Or is it? Humour does seem to win out in the end; despite all the efforts of the workers it is serendipity that triumphs, hence: A Perfect Day.
A Perfect Day – a movie that emphasises the importance of living just for the moment (for yesterday and tomorrow do not exist says Mambrú) – is a slow-moving film that will not be to everyone’s taste. It is worth watching though for its very uniqueness. It is currently showing at select Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa.