Fatso in the Well
It is not easy to do good in the face of bureaucracy, war, thugs, opportunists, bribes bullies, suspicion and even love. Sometimes, though, without the do-gooders ever learning of the good news, fate or the gods or just ironic dumb luck gets the job done. Such is the ending of Fernando León de Aranoa´s first English-language try, A Perfect Day/Un día perfecto.
Co-adapted by him from a novel by Doctors without Borders´ Paula Farías, this semi-descendant of 1970 twins MASH and Catch-22 got a longish standing ovation at the Cannes Director´s Fortnight despite unevenness in its hour-and-three-quarters, staccato cynical humor that falls flat in places, and at least one and arguably two female rôles wasted.
Spanish locations that stand in for 1995 Bosnia are impressive and distanced for irony, as four Aid Across Borders field personnel interplay in a two-vehicle convoy. The twenty-four-hour action is indicated by lengthening shadows, including those particularly striking that look upwards from within a well. In the wáter at the bottom floats a heavyset corpse, there as a macabre joke, reprisal, booby trap, warning, or the work of mercenary merchants of potable wáter. The Sisyphean task set the NGO workers is to remove the bloated body before decomposition poisons this scarce source of useable water.
The only available rope frayed and broken in mid-operation, the rest of the story builds along the efforts to replace it and retrieve the dead man.
Weary-eyed Mambrú (Benecio Del Toro) heads up the crew while debating internally whether or not to return to an importuning girlfriend in the States. He shares his four-wheel-drive vehicle with melancholy native interpreter Damir (Fedja Stukan), while fun- and pun-loving logistics man B (Tim Robbins) pilots the other, with green sanitation expert Sophie (Melanie Thierry) occupying the shotgun seat and somewhat green about the gills at the gratuitous nastiness around her.
They are joined along the way by Katya (Olga Kurylenko), Mambrú´s onetime lover sent by their organization to appraise the group´s performance. She is catty and jealous, out-of-place stylishly pretty enough for B to quip about Models without Borders wearing black panties in conflict zones, and totally unnecessary to the story. So essential, however, that without him this senselessness of war would itself be meaningless, is Nikola (Eldar Residovic), a youngster they rescue from bullies, who wants to go home for another soccer ball and who knows where a length of rope can be had (though he neglects to tell them the whole of it).
The precise villains are impossible to pinpoint, unless it be generic man and his insanity. Dialogue is clipped and intended as mostly cynical and humorous, some of it spot-on but a good deal of it obvious and soggy.
Still, the director´s habitual concern for social issues, the unsung and the underdog, comes through far over the film´s jarring musical accompaniment (in which, nevertheless, the B-side Lou Reed title song is not heard). Overused "gallows," "black," or "dark" humor may point the way, as here, as one of the very few with which to deal with the theater of the absurd that man makes. "Devoid of purpose," according to Eugène Ionesco, "man is lost, his actions become senseless, absurd, useless." Only through compassionate perspective and purposeful action, even when doomed, can he avoid absolute madness.
(Released by IFC Films and rated "R" for language including some sexual references.)