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During the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, Perfect Days by Wim Wenders (Germany/Japan, 2023) was awarded by Ecumenical Jury.
"This cinematographic masterpiece is a jewel with numerous poetic attributes. Through the different characters, the director conveys a powerful narrative about hope, beauty, and transfiguration in the daily lives we lead. The dignity of the main character, the fulfillment of his work carried out with dedication, as well as his respect for others and his wonderment in the face of nature, depicts universal values that are often lacking in our contemporary societies. This film is pure grace”, affirms the jury.
Members of the 2023 ecumenical jury: Néstor Briceño, President (Venezuela), Anne-Laure Filhol (France), Katia Margerie (France), Alberto V. Ramos Ruiz (Cuba), Joel Ruml (Czech Republic), Jane Stranz (Great Britain).
A review by Philippe Cabrol
Touching and imbued with a sense of contemplation of daily life, Perfect Days is a minimalist film tinted with rock music from the 1960s, where happiness is experienced in the taste of simple things. The title of this feature film is derived from the famous song by Lou Reed.
Wim Wenders returns to the Cannes Film Festival after six years without directing fiction, where he received the Palme d'Or and the ecumenical jury prize in 1984 for Paris, Texas. This film was born out of a commission by the municipality of Tokyo to Wim Wenders, revolving around public toilets in the Shibuya district. Instead of making the originally planned short film, the filmmaker, who is passionate about Japan (having made Tokyo-Ga, a documentary homage to Ozu, 35 years earlier), decided to create a fiction centered around the daily life of a janitor employed by The Tokyo Toilet company.
For his first feature film shot in Japan, Wenders tells the story of a public toilet cleaner with a solitary and hardworking soul. Hirayama works in the maintenance of public toilets in Tokyo. He is reserved, a model employee who takes pride in doing his work well. However, his past resurfaces through unexpected encounters. Quiet, attentive, non-judgmental, generous, and helpful, Hirayama flourishes in a simple life and a highly structured routine. He performs a thankless job, which he has no shame in doing perfectly. He finds profound, philosophical meaning in the contemplation of the present moment. Conscientious, he is content with very little.
Everything is orderly, both in his apartment and in his days, which are punctuated by specific rituals. Each day is structured by habits that he tirelessly repeats and begins in the same way: a gaze at the sky, a drink, work, and music. When he leaves his building to go to work, he looks at the sky and smiles. For his lunch break, he always goes to the same park, sits on the same bench, reads a book, and photographs the variations of light in the leaves of the trees.
Hirayama has a passion for music, especially rock songs from the 1970s (the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Lou Reed, Patti Smith...) that he listens to on old cassette tapes. A cultured man, he enjoys reading, particularly Faulkner or Patricia Highsmith. He marvels at the beauty of the trees, which he loves to photograph. If this man is a loner, he is not unhappy. Through the gestures of daily life, and through the admiration of the movement of the sun through the leaves, Hirayama's universe is in harmony with his surroundings. Attentive to the world around him, he always notices its beauty.
The attention he pays to others, even when they ignore him, makes him a dignified man. Invisible among the invisible, he is transparent in their eyes. But he isn't the type to complain. Hirayama is a beautiful person, making each day a success in his own words. This film takes us through the streets of the Japanese capital, filled with fleeting encounters and an unchanging daily life. We will learn nothing about this reticent man or his apparently painful family history
Perfect Days is a poetic and spiritual journey, portraying a man without a story, dignified and smiling. Wim Wenders' aim is to show that happiness lies in the simple things in life. Indeed, for Hirayama, happiness is not found in appearance, money, or social ambition, but in the small details of everyday life. It is simply a joy of living that is experienced in the present, with simplicity and passion. With this profoundly sensitive and human story, Wim Wenders offers us a moving and poetic reflection on the search for beauty in everyday life. The direction is delicate and makes the daily life of this man tangible.
Through a naturalistic style, a slow and contemplative rhythm, the filmmaker captures the softness of natural light to perfection. The film showcases the beauty of everyday life in its utmost simplicity. Everything is beautiful in this film: the shots of Tokyo, the music, Hirayama's kindness, his face and smiles, the gazes cast by the hero upon the world. An ode to the here and now, an ode to nature, an ode to life, an ode to the poetry of everyday life, an ode to serenity, Wim Wenders creates a luminous film. Two years after the pandemic, the German filmmaker chooses to remind us of our fundamentals: to enjoy life, to appreciate what the world offers us.