‘Laughter is the best policy when faced with adversity’ is the mantra behind Mondays in the Sun filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa’s new pitch-perfect dark comedy, A Perfect Day, starring Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins. The title is being ironic, but equally, fitting, as events play out in this unique post-war tale set in the Balkans.

It follows 24 hours in the lives of aid workers/security experts Mambrú (Del Toro) and B (Robbins) and begins with a decomposing body in a well affecting the water supply for locals in a mountainous terrain. Facing hurdles, from local suspicions and corruption to United Nations red tape, the battle-hardened pair strives to resolve the situation, along with impatient novice aid worker Sophie (Mélanie Thierry), conflict evaluator/Mambrú’s snide ex, Katya (Olga Kurylenko), weary interpreter Damir (Fedja Stukan) and local young boy Nikola (Eldar Residovic).

Just the mix of this group alone sounds fascinating, let alone the situation, even before the day’s bizarre journey unfolds. Based on Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) doctor Paula Farias’s novel, León de Aranoa’s documentary-style realism is a perfect setting for the dry humour, laced with cynicism to breed. His script is full of deliciously witty retorts and observations, all said in an off-handed fashion, as his characters try to go about their job in a relentlessly hostile environment.

Del Toro’s rugged features, complete with wicked twinkle in the eye are spot-on here as Mambrú, who spends his time sighing at the knee-jerk reactions of others while lightening the load with amusing quips, but gets serious when the situation calls for it. Robbins is quite brilliant as loose cannon, wise-cracking B, a loyal colleague with the gift of the gab and a sick sense of humour to match the environment that he calls ‘home’.

León de Aranoa’s script is utterly hilarious but surprisingly misogynistic, as the women are depicted as ‘obstacles’ in a man’s world. Sadly, there is an element of truth to this in reality, but it’s still a hard pill to swallow watching the first few scenes. Thierry as Sophie’s tangling with U.N. officials is clichéd but still entertaining to watch, as is seeing her enthusiasm wane and her adopting her mentor’s coping mechanisms as the day progresses. Kurylenko as Katya doesn’t manage to shake off the Bond girl label here either, even playing a strong female character, merely serving as the film’s pouting eye candy and stirring up trouble for Mambrú.

That said, there is one supporting female character who does get the last laugh and the most achieved by the end of play – León de Aranoa’s adaptation suggesting leaving local issues to local know-how, as well as critiquing of the real benefit of the U.N. – which from experience can be more of a hindrance to the status quo than a positive measure. In all fairness though, all his characters are marred in some way for this story to work.

Describing A Perfect Day as a ‘M*A*S*H-like comedy’ in this year’s LFF program is very apt – a Balkan version, bound to satisfy fans of the TV series. Those of us fortunate enough to have worked in a news environment can vouch for and recognise the irony of the situations Mambrú and co face, so the material feels fresh and remarkably believable too. As unique comedy goes, this is first class.

A Perfect Day Review
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Fierce film reviewer and former BFI staffer, Lisa is partial to any Jack Nicholson flick. She also masquerades as a broadcast journalist, waiting for the day she can use her Criminology & Criminal Justice-trained mind like a female Cracker.