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Perfect Day, A

MPI Home Video // R // July 19, 2016
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted August 4, 2016 | E-mail the Author
In an unidentified area of the Balkans, two aid workers, Mambru (Benicio del Toro) and "B" (Tim Robbins), try their best to help whoever needs it despite the many limitations they're facing, both legal and physical. Today's roadblock: they need a piece of rope so that they can haul a dead body intentionally stuffed in the only one of the area's three wells that isn't loaded with mines. With fired-up newbie Sophie (Melanie Thierry) and translator Damir (Fedja Stukan) in tow, they run into resistance from the military police, pick up sad local boy Nikola (Eldar Residovic) in need of a replacement soccer ball, and find themselves shuttling around Mambru's former fling Katya (Olga Kurylenko), all while trying to avoid mines, angry locals, and worst of all, enemy soldiers who haven't yet heard that peace talks are on the verge of wrapping up.

A Perfect Day is an odd duck. It's a comedy that is only occasionally funny, a war drama without any war, a drama without much dramatic resolution. Even so, there's something consistently compelling about this shambling, shaggy dog movie, which features excellent performances by its impressive ensemble cast. Bringing to mind David O. Russell's fantastic Three Kings (minus the Saudi gold), director Fernando Leon de Aranda shifts smoothly back and forth between a loose hang-out vibe with a couple of seasoned guys who are just trying to keep their heads down and do their jobs, and a sense of real danger lurking around every corner.

The heart of the movie's conflict stems from the defeating struggle that Mambru and B face having to deal with the complications created by war -- closed roads, land mines, hostile people, malicious activity -- without actually being in any way responsible or involved in it. Their only goals are altruistic, including pulling the body from the well, or helping Nikola get a new soccer ball, and yet they end up confronted with all of the horrors, whether that's a kid in a gang pulling a pistol on Mambru or a man with a shop full of ropes coldly informing B through Damir that they're out of stock. At one point, Nikola has a suggestion on where to get a rope, but when they arrive, they find it attached to an angry dog, the other end tied to a post that prevents him from attacking them. Another potential rope is attached to a flag, but the foreign soldier in the outpost the flag belongs to panics, informing B through broken English that removing it will invite bad guys to attack him. Finally, the group spends the entire night camped out in their Jeeps in front of a dead cow, unsure of whether or not the enemy bombs have been planted to the left or right side of the animal.

In approaching this struggle, de Aranda takes a laid-back, matter-of-fact approach, with Mambru and B generally having no option but to sigh, suck it up and plow on through to the next possibility or find an alternate route. Much of the film's comedy -- and some of its heart-wrenching drama -- stem from de Aranda's straightforward presentation of simple truths. As B watches, soldiers yell ineffectually at an old woman crossing a field with her cows that may or may not be rigged with traps, and the moment has a funny quality even as B does nothing but watch her and comment idly to Damir about her. On the other end of the spectrum, there's a stunning effectiveness to a scene where Mambru sees something in Nikola's garage that Sophie cannot, and he attempts valiantly to get her out of the garage without having to witness it. Moments later, he and B, forced to make a tough decision about their discovery for the sake of efficiency and a lack of other options, hardly hesitate before diving into a regrettable task.

Although the pairing seems unexpected at a glance, del Toro and Robbins are a great comic team, both sharing the same loose-limbed, devil-may-care attitude, as well as the same grizzled edge. Fejda Stukan also has good comic repartee with both Robbins and del Toro, as well as a great dramatic beat in a moment when he hears something that chills him to the bone. Thierry does an excellent job of tracing a complex arc for Sophie, who enters idealistic and slowly allows reality to set in, but does so subtly, over the course of little glances and shifts in demeanor, rather than big dramatic epiphanies. Even Olga Kurylenko, often saddled with unforgiving roles in American movies, is allowed the rare opportunity to play a perfectly normal person, and she reveals nuances and qualities to her charisma that are quite enjoyable. She is relaxed, wry but not overly witty, and surprisingly real. Each of the characters' small dramatic journeys coalesce, not so much into a united story but an overall philosophy. Mambru and B know that nine times out of ten, something will get in their way, but perhaps even the opportunity to really try to help is worth something.

The Blu-ray
A Perfect Day has somewhat clever art that will make sense once the viewer has seen the film, but it also feels like the ring of the well could have also been included on the art to clarify the picture a little even for those who haven't seen the film yet. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, A Perfect Day looks and sounds pretty great on Blu-ray. The picture has a naturally muted palette, with plenty of browns and grays, with skintones that tend more toward brown and nearly white in sunlight. Detail is extremely strong, and depth is decent. No banding intrudes on even scenes occurring at night. Sound-wise, there's quite a bit of atmospheric effect, including the distant baying of cows, environmental detail relating to the sparseness and hollowed-out nature of the setting, and the soundtrack is peppered with pop music needle drops that sound nice as well. An LPCM 2.0 track is also included, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and Spanish subtitles.

The Extras
Two iterations of a "Making-of" -- Long (12:27) and Short (4:20) -- are included. I suppose it's nice to include more rather than less, but I can't think of any real reason to watch the "Short" version, which is just the last little chunk of the "Long" featurette and is mostly focused on technical details, whereas the longer featurette also includes the cast talking about their characters and story. Then again, neither is particularly great, with lengthy clips padding out the running time. Another short, self-explanatory featurette is also included, "On the International Cast" (3:33).

In case the disc doesn't have enough in the way of repetitive bonuses, you can also watch the uncut versions of the interviews (18:01) from the cast and director (de Arnanda, Del Toro, Robbins, Thierry, Kurylenko, and Stukan) separately, which is mostly made up of material you'll have already seen.

Trailers for Anesthesia, Dixieland, A Ballerina's Tale, and Every Thing Will Be Fine play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for A Perfect Day is also included.

A Perfect Day is an odd movie, engaging almost despite itself, featuring a great cast and an unusual story that both resolves itself and doesn't. Mileage may vary more than usual, but for me, this is recommended.

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