"A Perfect Day": A State of the Soul By Ruth Pombo

in 58th Locarno International Film Festival

by Ruth Pombo

No matter how terrible and grievous the state of the world can be, everybody has an everyday life, related to the most common gestures, like shopping at the supermarket, having breakfast every morning or wishing a good day in passing by neighbours on the way to work. Watching the news on television and reading the newspaper have become almost automatic habits for the majority of us. But wars, political conflicts, terrorism and everything we can get to know from TV and the dailies do affect people like us, men and women whose lives also contain the same kind of repetitive and apparently simple gestures.

It has been said that we are what we do. The most important of official and public statements will not be as crucial in everybody’s lives as ordinary routines are, those that would convey the saddest and most intimate of the consequences of war. Even if relatives have been killed in a battlefield a few days before or our most loved ones have died in an ambush: life goes on, the same as feelings, fears and hopes are hidden inside any person behind the social smile to a colleague at work, or behind the ‘thank you’ to any stranger’s polite gesture towards us in every moment of our week.

A Perfect Day, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s second feature film, is one of these rare examples where an exact and sensitive portrait of the soul is drawn from the most simple traces of life possible, these everyday and apparently small gestures shared by almost all of us around the world. The film also accurately succeeds in showing the city’s breathe, where everything takes place. The fact is that streets, buildings and public spaces become characters themselves: the story of a family and a city both wounded by the consequences of war, the city being Beirut where the scars of a terrible and recent war in Lebanon are still visible everywhere.

A Perfect Day takes a difficult way to enhance the consequences of war, the ones related to the loneliness, confusion and despair inside the inhabitants, apart from the more obvious shots of broken walls and ruins of buildings.

Made with the help of Lebanese, French and German money, A Perfect Day surpasses the usual level of quality in co-productions. The centre of the film is a broken family. An only child of a cultured couple, who has grown up after the war, has to cope with the disappearance of his father, not a dead soldier but one of the victims of political repression. He is now a young adult with a good job in the building industry, a demanding mother who tries to control everything he does as much as possible, a heart broken because of a beautiful woman and some weird problems in his sleep. His car, cell phone and the incredible amount of cigarettes that he smokes dominate his lifestyle. The day comes when he has to confront the emotional and practical consequences of his father being officially considered as a dead person.

But this is not the only thread of the plot: it just underlines everything A Perfect Day contains. The film brilliantly develops its intentions by a series of closed sequences full of symbols and metaphors. One of the most beautiful examples is how love and despair blur when the main character’s tears appear, together with light and smoke that get in his eyes and put him into a state of protective isolation. He does not want to confront his own feelings and, therefore, creates his own vision of the world. This is the reason why he wears his girlfriend’s contact lenses, which also leads the audience into sharing with him the states of his wounded soul.

Close to the way in understanding light and sound that directors like the French Marguerite Duras and Claire Denis or the Argentinean Pablo Trapero have tried before them, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige prove with A Perfect Day that cinema must be much more than just telling a story. That is, at the same time, the images and sounds are essential in evoking, confronting and constructing a vision of the world of their own.