There is a subtle tonal complexity to A Perfect Day, where even the title has an air of sarcasm. There is a lingering note of melancholy throughout the film, and it earns every bit of it. There was little to laugh about in the Balkans during the 1990s, and A Perfect Day uses it to control every scene’s tone. Writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa paints a portrait of a war-torn area in dire need of assistance, but whose own community is against them. At the center of it, there is a crisis of faith and disillusionment with humanity as a whole. De Aranoa sets the film up to be a slow-burn, occasionally energized by classic rock music. He tempers the bleak topic with scattered bits of humor, meant to be a coping mechanism in such a hostile environment.
This film is primarily situation driven, with one catastrophe after another being introduced to keep the story going. Even though it progresses like Mambru’s personal account of his time there, that doesn’t mean every other character should come off as shallow. Naturally, Benicio del Toro plays the seasoned aide worker with a penchant for bending the rules to perfection. As the main character, we gain exposition of his backstory and a glimpse at his ideals and morals through his actions. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of the other characters being used as a vehicle to add even more depth to del Toro’s. A Perfect Day is as much about etiquette in a war torn area as it is about training and passing on veteran knowledge to the unseasoned replacement, but the film rarely ever shifts the focus to anyone other than the main character. That leaves the replacement and would-be main character Sophie (Mélanie Thierry) left flapping in the wind as nothing more than a hollow character we don’t know enough about to fully become invested in.
A side effect of the poorly developed characters is that the cast’s true talents are never fully realized, aside from del Toro’s. Every character is just there to play their part in the main character’s story. Tim Robbins is the comic relief, and with the grim subject matter, the humor is very dark. Thierry becomes the green aide worker that is introduced mainly to give the audience a front row view of several teachable moments. With her unbridled optimism, she is supposed to be del Toro’s foil and a stark reminder of his outlook before the job jaded his perspective. Even Olga Kurylenko is meant to be a reminder of his past and a catalyst used to further flesh out del Toro’s character and highlight his state of moral and emotion growth.
A Perfect Day uses a very specific story about the effects of war and the difficulties of trying to help, and makes it just relatable enough to be applied to many other similar situations around the world. By humanizing the characters, especially Mambru, the audience is able to empathize through his individual struggle and ripples into the struggle of the community as a whole. The great ensemble cast weren’t optimally used, leaving del Toro to be the only one to have an actual perfect day.
Rating: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)