Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

A Perfect Day

(Spain, 2016)

All wars are horrible, but the Yugoslav Wars from 1991 to 2001 seem to be particularly bad. You remember them? There were four different wars, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, and Slovenia, plus two “insurgencies.” People who had gotten along fine with neighbors of different faiths or ethnicities suddenly began shooting and blowing each other up. Horrible war crimes were committed. This is where we got the term “ethnic cleansing.” It seemed to me at the time that it was the Serbs who did the worst things, but no group was totally innocent.

This is a fairly simple story of four westerners and a local translator working for a fictional NGO called Aid Across Borders. The veterans are Tim Robbins, Benicio del Toro, and Olga Kurylenko, the new kid in the SUV is Mélanie Thierry, from France. The translator is Fedja Štukan. There is a dead body at the bottom of a well near a small town. This was a common tactic, apparently, dropping a corpse down a well to poison the water in enemy communities. Sometimes they cut them up, to make the removal chore even more gruesome. One of the jobs of these aid workers is to help provide clean water, so they try to pull the dead man out. But he’s very fat, and their old rope breaks. So they set out to find another length of rope, which proves to be almost impossible. They navigate harrowing mountain roads that are blocked with dead cows. The idea is that there will be a land mine either under the cow, or to the left or the right. But which one? They encounter insurgents, pass through devastated and deserted villages. They finally get some rope by cutting down a hanged man and his wife. They return to the well and have the body halfway out …

… when a U.N. patrol, the “blue helmets,” arrives and tells them they can’t do that. Some insane bureaucracy has laid down strict rules about who can do what during the “cease-fire,” and the commanding officer won’t budge. The rope is cut, and the body falls down again. I can hardly imagine the frustration. Some assholes in Geneva or somewhere, people who have never been to Bosnia, have ensured that the well will remain contaminated for the foreseeable future. The movie was filmed in Spain, and it’s okay, keeping you nervous about all the bad things that could happen. But the pace is slow, and drags here and there.