"Don't think about it. Or else you'll end up going home. Forget's what happened, or what's gonna happen. Focus on what's happening now. The rest doesn't exist here."
-A Perfect Day (2015), dir. Fernando León de Aranoa. Trailer.
I won't sit here and try to tell you it's a great film. It isn’t. But it has an uncanny outlook I want to share with you.
As other public service workers accustomed to insane environments will attest, there are not a lot of films that capture a certain unique and very valuable mindset that looks strange from the outside, and is hard to describe to others. Set in 1995, A Perfect Day is about humanitarian aid workers stationed in war-torn Bosnia.
It's also a comedy.
The entire picture concerns a small quartet's efforts to extract a corpse from a village well, and the unending parade of obstacles that prevent them from doing so. Outdated regulations, communication misfires, personal prejudices, and bureaucratic red tape from militias and well-meaning aid organizations alike thwart their every turn, and they expend great effort accomplishing almost nothing.
An optimistically warped reader like myself will recognize the key word there: almost.
How do you stay sane in an insane environment? How do you not go crazy with despair both intimate and existential? What works for our characters in the Balkans also works in the crazy world of on-the-ground urban public and transit service:
You do what you can. The rest, you laugh about. You have to laugh. Don't go looking for logic in these parts. Don't think too hard about things, or ask yourself too many questions. It gets in the way of the smile you can give someone. And those do help. Just laugh about it, put in some effort, and be something other than a problem. You won't solve hardly anything, and that's okay.
You're accomplishing more than you think.
Above image courtesy IFC Films.