A PERFECT DAY FOR CARIBOU (Slamdance 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
“I don’t think there are any charms left for me in this life” says a forlorn yet frank Herman (Jeb Berrier) into a small hand-held dictaphone. He’s reciting what we quickly learn is a goodbye of sorts to his son Nate (Charlie Plummer), planning to leave the tape and what remains of his simple belongings to his estranged now adult child after he shoots himself.
The plan changes, however, when a long-ago written letter Herman had sent to Nate finally gets a response, and the two agree to meet in person at an isolated cemetery. Nate brings along his 7-year-old son Ralph (Oellis Levine) – Herman’s grandson – and when the young boy vanishes, the two men go on an unexpected search which gives them time to get to know each other much more deeply than either could have predicted.
With A Perfect Day for Caribou, writer/producer/director Jeff Rutherford has crafted a surprisingly powerful and deeply moving portrait of three generations of broken men. This is a film where every piece slots perfectly into place; Alfonso Herrera Salcedo’s breathtaking high contrast black and white cinematography paints a landscape so exquisite it could make Ansel Adams blush, editor Melanie Akoka intuitively brings to life the conversational beats to perfection, and of course at the heart of it are the simply extraordinary performances by Berrier and Plummer (if the latter looks familiar, he of course starred in Andrew Haigh’s A24 film Lean on Pete in 2017 – he’s solid in that film, and even better here).
A Perfect Day for Caribou is an oddly sad film, where so much about the experience of watching it seems to silently hinge around themes of containment – contained in space, contained within families, contained within bodies. That it narratively hinges around a breach of that containment in the shape of little Ralph’s disappearance is a simple yet effective enough a rupture in the overwhelming sense of containment that defines these men’s lives that it allows the necessary shift in their relations to reveal things to each other about themselves and about their lives that they may ordinarily not have been able to do. A masterclass in a film that looks simple but is in fact anything but, A Perfect Day for Caribou is an unmissable highlight of this year’s Slamdance festival.