(nl) wrote: Foreign films rarely get the proper recognition in the English speaking world, be that the US or Great Britain. Only recently have foreign films been allowed to compete in categories other than Best Foreign film at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes still relegate them to the Foreign Film category. If we look at the box-office results we see an even more drastic condition. The highest grossing foreign film of all time in the US is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which made $127 million, something the small Pitch Perfect film achieved in 2011 which much less effort. But being shunned from awards and shut out from the box office doesn't mean foreign films don't have quality, just look at the great Italian films Cinema Paradiso or Life is Beautiful, or at Jacques Tati's film repertoire, Almodovar and Amenabar in Spain, Michael Haneke in Austria, and the great master Miyazaki and Kurozawa in Japan. This brings us to A Perfect Day the newest film from Spanish director Fernando Leon de Aranoa. The film is made by Spaniards, told in English, and takes place in the Balkans, a very curious mix, which nonetheless produced one of the best films of the year. A Perfect Day tells the story of a group of aid workers working in the midst of the Balkan crisis in 1995. We have Mambru (Benicio del Toro) the group's unofficial leader and head of security, the wisecracking B (Tim Robbins), the rookie Sophie (Melanie Thierry), and their translator Damir (Fedja Stukan). The film opens with Mambru trying to take a dead body out of a town well. It's the body of an obese man, which later symbolizes of the dreading weight that the group is trying to relieve without help from the UN or the locals, all trying to help a country they barely know. The story intensifies when Mambru picks up a lost local kid named Nikola (Eldar Residovic) who had his soccer ball stolen by bullies, and finally Mambru's ex shows up (Olga Kurylenko) to evaluate the situation in the Balkans. Essentially the movie is a road-trip through the Bosnian countryside, letting you catch a glimpse of the situation that the locals lived in (and still live in today). Spanish cinema has been living a sort of resurgence. There was a bit of an absence of aspiring directors in the 90s, where Pedro Almodovar took most of Spanish cinema's weight on his shoulders. But then came a youngster named Alejandro Amenabar who for his college thesis paper he created a movie (Thesis) which attracted the spotlights and had critics and cinema fans waiting with bated breath to see if a new star could be born. Since then Amenabar has only created six films (with his latest Regression which opened in the US a couple of weeks ago), but all of the six were greatly acclaimed and launched him not only to national stardom, but internationally as well. On the box office side, Spain has refilled cinemas thanks to the vulgar Torrente films from Santiago Segura, which follow the adventures of a corrupt cop (the fifth film Torrente: Operacion Eurovegas had Alec Baldwin starring as the main villain). But recently other alternatives have opened up in the box office, such as 8 Apellidos Vascos (Spanish Affair), which broke Torrente 4's Spanish box-office record and grossing $71 million internationally. Finally a great diversity of filmmakers has erupted with Alberto Rodriguez (Unit 7, Marshland) and David Trueba (Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed). Now Leon de Arenoa has situated himself among the new Spanish crop as well. What most surprised me about A Perfect Day was the incredible balance it has. When touching upon the subject of war, it is very easy to be extreme. Extreme in the sense that you show a gore-fest and lots of blood and death, or an extreme where you try to cover up everything and have only descriptions from characters of passed events. A Perfect Day achieves its goal of brutalizing war with simple acts, like when a kid pulls out a gun when fighting over a ball, or when a store-owner can't sell his rope because he has them reserved for hangings, or when a shy adolescent watches over an empty warehouse, but is spurred with hope for protecting its flag. It is these little details littered in the story that really give you the sense of suffering and dread that can be seen in times of war. In terms of the acting, it was also very well balanced. You had Robbins as the comic relief, and Del Toro as the speaker of truth. Both actors give an incredible performance, with visible yet admirable improvisation. Meanwhile the supporting cast also is incredibly solid. The more known names of Olga Kurylenko and Melanie Thierry do a fine job, but the surprises here were in the local actors: Fedja Stukan and Eldar Residovic who both give incredibly raw and layered performances that have us longing to console them, yet you never once pity them in the undignified sense. Then the cinematography is also very simple, but yet contains a few flourishes and Director of Photography Alex Catalan (Marshland, Unit 7) gives the movie a cold almost wintery look that makes the message and harshness of the story fall sharper and hit you harder. Finally, the script was incredibly witty and quick. The character development in the two hours of running time is so smooth you barely notice it, but when comparing the characters at the beginning and at the end of the movie you see how subtle Leon de Aranoa was (especially with the character Sophie). The dialogue is absolutely delicious, with the best being quirky exchanges between B and Mambru. In the end this film, again, exemplifies that "there is life outside the US" and that foreign cinema (in particular Spanish cinema) is growing and cultivating fresh crops of new artists. And in a world of war and sorrow, art is sometimes the only window of hope.