“Spanish writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa makes a respectable English-language debut with A Perfect Day, about a group of humanitarian aid workers in the Balkans in 1995, as the Bosnian conflict was winding down,” begins David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “Tipping its hat to antiwar screen comedies that came out of the counterculture movement like Catch-22 and M*A*S*H—with a dash of the mordant absurdism of Emir Kusturica and Goran Paskaljevic fueled by the setting—the good-looking film’s humor is low-key to a fault, and its characters don’t always generate the sparks that the script intends.”
As the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin explains, “word of the ceasefire that has been thrashed out between the Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Yugoslavian foreign ministers in the United States has not yet filtered up to the rubble-strewn mountains where Mambrú and B, two international aid workers played by Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins, are doing their best to keep the local communities from self-combustion. Overnight, the corpse of a very fat man has appeared in a very deep village well, which is bad news on two counts. Firstly, it has to be removed from the well within around 24 hours or the water will be rendered unpotable; and secondly, the corpse didn’t get there by itself, which means there’s more afoot here than cosmic bad luck.”
“There are a couple of women, too,” notes Alfonso Rivera, who also interviews León de Aranoa for Cineuropa: “a freshly arrived French lady who is a total novice when it comes to strong emotions (Mélanie Thierry), and a Russian woman (Olga Kurylenko) with good looks worthy of a model and who previously had an affair with Mambrú. Finally, local man Damir (Fedja Stukan) will serve as their interpreter with the Bosnians and will stoically bear witness to the—sometimes illogical—maneuvers of this group of individuals confronted by the delirium, dehumanization and senselessness of war.”
“But despite the appreciably restrained, low-key approach, the character-driven humor never finds a proper groove in what amounts to a so-so retread of earlier mid-conflict comedies like M*A*S*H and The Hunting Party,” finds Variety‘s Justin Chang.
“León de Aranoa doesn’t have Altman’s poise and he struggles to straddle comedy and tragedy,” agrees Henry Barnes in the Guardian. “The lurches in tone are brutal, accompanied by crass soundtrack choices that emphasize the jolt. In the aftermath of the team finding a body swinging from a tree in the back garden of a bombed-out house, León de Aranoa cranks out Marilyn Manson’s cover of ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.’ It turns the heat up way too high. The drama is so over-cooked it bubbles out of the pot…. Inconsistency is A Perfect Day’s biggest problem.”
“A Perfect Day isn’t perfect,” grants Jonathan Romney in Screen. “[T]he comic one-liners, the critique of the UN protection force’s procedure-bound bureaucracy, and the tragedy-of-war sentiment sometimes make for a bumpy tonal ride. But the humanity of the enterprise, hovering between sympathy and ironic detachment, keeps the script on course, delivering a story that for all its motley-band-of-brothers clichés feels as authentic as many more pious takes on the Bosnian conflict.”
“Politically, the movie is a muddle, but it seems to subscribe to the Chinatown notion that intervention has a tendency to make matters worse,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com. “It’s not a consistent movie, but it has cutting moments.”
Update, 5/18: “Overall,” writes Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist, “the film is rarely actively bad, but more often inspires a shrug. In fact, the structure of the film, from its day-in-the-life plot (and various sub-plots) to restoring the status quo by the end, makes it feel less like a movie and more like a middling TV pilot. And while it’s good to see Del Toro having some fun with material like this, even he wouldn’t be enough to make you keep watching that hypothetical show.”
Update, 5/20: IFC Films has acquired US rights, reports Indiewire‘s Casey Cipriani.