A Perfect Day

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Irony and hardship often arrive simultaneously, a fact that Aid Across Borders workers can fully appreciate in Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s sublimely crafted A Perfect Day (2015), his first English-language Spanish film. Working in a remote part of the Balkans to free a corpse from a well and thus eliminate the threat of water pollution for the locals are Sophie (Melanie Thierry), B (Tim Robbins) and their leader Mambru (Benicio Del Toro). They soon learn all about the incongruency of humour inflicted by a turmoil that you either laugh at or cry in the face of.

A broken rope just as they near completion of lifting the bloated cadaver from the well leaves them exposed by their lack of resources. Attempting to procure another with the aid of their translator Damir (Fedja Stukan) turns into some ordeal as resentment and distrust from local communities keeps them at arm’s length. Along the way they encounter strategically placed dead cows in the middle of the road that may or may not be concealing explosives. They also pick up a young boy, Nikola (Eldar Residovic) who they save from bullies, and receive extra assistance from another Aid worker who also happens to be Mambru’s old flame, Katya (Olga Kurylenko).

Hypocrisy at higher levels of decision making and the often untenable separation of logic from a solution because of infernal reams of red tape form a significant part of the screenplay by Aranoa and Diego Farias, based on a novel by Paula Farias. But these become secondary to the characterisations which carry the film, providing it with texture, form and empathy in the shape of a fully fleshed out ensemble whose interactions are always dramatically engaging and often bleakly humorous. There are few dramatic flourishes or suspenseful moments or even a countdown to a major resolution. But A Perfect Day is no poorer in any way for this lack of attention to conventionality. It makes up for any superficial shortcomings with delicate, humourous interplay and a great deal of heart.

Aranoa’s lone dubious creative choice may be in saturating the soundtrack with a barrage of rock tracks though it’s hard to deny that certain choices, even if unsubtly deployed, prove effective. The acting is first-rate with the testy relationship between Mambru and Katya accounting for many of the film’s best scenes. Robbins has his best role in years as the carefree B, whilst Thierry is given a few memorable moments as the group’s newcomer, alternating between outrage, fright and bemusement at her co-workers’ often less than unorthodox methods of operation.

 

Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed)

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David Trueba’s feel-good drama casts a warm nostalgic glow in its observance of altruism, decency and a tender, all-encompassing musical passion. Set in Spain, 1966, we first encounter Antonio (Javier Cámara), an impassioned, much-loved, middle-aged teacher whose devotion to The Beatles even involves a meticulous breakdown of their lyrics for his students. When he hears that John Lennon is cross-country acting in a film, he decides, optimistically, to use an entire weekend to drive to the set in Almeria and hopefully make contact with his hero.

Interspersing these early scenes, two further important characters are shown at moments of crisis, with a sense of disconnectedness forming the basis of their growing pains. Belen (Natalia de Molina), a pregnant young woman, is desperate to flee a nunnery and return home to her mother. Meanwhile, teenager Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) is finding life tough as just another sibling attempting to forge his own identity under the strict family life imposed by a policeman father (Jorge Sanz). For him, refusing to get his Beatles-like mop-top cut is an act of defiance, and enough to inspire him to hit the road.

Soon the lives of these three strangers converge as Antonio encounters both and for a while Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) (2014) becomes a road movie. Then the trio arrive in the seaside town closest to where Lennon is filming. All are nursing various hurts, and Antonio expects Belen and Juanjo to simply go their own way. But Belen, having warmed to Antonio, sticks close by and Juanjo gets a job at the local, sparsely-populated tavern of owner Ramon (Ramon Fontsere).

It’s impossible to dislike this film; at the heart of the light drama is the ridiculously likable Antonio. He’s a kind of lovable loser, having never found true love. In a moment of honesty he admits, without the slightest tinge of bitterness, that he’s “all heart” but with nothing to show for it. Yet he’s devoted to his causes and passions in a way that every like-minded person can relate to.

Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) is not trying to re-invent the wheel; to be critical you might say it lacks real substance but its underlying messages and congeniality are what make it a memorable treat. It often made me laugh out loud or smile whilst simultaneously provoking a reflection on the harshness of fate, as in the burden placed on Ramon with his handicapped son Bruno (Rogelio Fernandez) – a sub-plot that never once allows sentimental manipulation to colour a series of brief, but genuinely affecting scenes.

So much hangs on Cámara, and he breathes magnificent life into Antonio; we believe every word and gesture from this gentle, generous man who is able to put his young passengers at ease and draw them out of their shells by infecting them with his love of life, experience and, of course, music. Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) never shies away from darker contexts in the way it approaches the coming-of-age aspects of the narrative, yet at its soulful core – in the journey of Antonio – Treuba’s screenplay is built upon a rare and precious kind of positivity. Perhaps it gazes at life through mildly rose-tinted glasses, but every once in a while, what’s the harm in that?

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Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) is now out on DVD through Madman Entertainment.