Perfect Strangers (2016)


There are many rotten aspects in modern-day Italy and I consider the cinematic art to be one of them as the majority of Italian films hitting the screen nowadays are pure trash, reason why this is the one category I tend to avoid (the most). There are, however, some exceptions now and then, that one film that, either because of its cast — usually Alessandro Gassmann — or its trailer, I'm interested in seeing. Paolo Genovese's Perfect Strangers (Italian: Perfetti sconosciuti) falls into the latter category as the trailer was very funny. Imagine my surprise when I found myself watching a funny, entertaining but also very clever and thought-provoking comedy-drama.

To celebrate a once in a lifetime moon eclipse, Rocco (Marco Giallini) and Eva (Kasia Smutniak), a married couple with a teenage daughter (Benedetta Porcarolli), invite their friends, Lele (Valerio Mastrandrea) and Carlotta (Anna Foglietta), Cosimo (Edoardo Leo) and Bianca (Alba Rohrwacher), and Peppe (Giuseppe Battiston), over for dinner.

Upon acknowledging that not only smartphones disrupt any social engagement but that they are also our little black box filled with secrets we keep from our partners, Eva, who happens to be a psychologist, proposes a game, to place all their phones on the table and if/when they ring or texts/emails come through, to hands-free answer or read them out loud respectively.

Although most are reluctant at first, they eventually agree as they claim to have nothing to hide. However, unsurprisingly, secrets abound and what starts out as an innocuous way to spend the night soon turns out to be a disastrous idea.

Perfect Strangers's is a very basic and simple premise but its execution is nothing short of fantastic. The story, or rather the game that brings to surface things the group of friends didn't want to share, immediately draws you in and gets more and more interesting as it developed and the friends start to wonder whether they know who their friends and partners really are. It's a story that has many unexpected twists and turns that keeps you wondering for the entire running time, as well as a brave, bitter-sweet ending.

The questions Genovese's film poses are very obvious — Do we really know the people we care about? Do we want to know who they really are? What if our deepest secrets were to be uncovered? Is it always the best thing to know the truth? — but not so are the answers. In fact, the film does not provide answers to the questions it raises; on the contrary, it lets the audience choose. At the same time, Perfect Strangers puts under the spotlight how much we rely/depend on our phones and how much they influence our everyday life.

The screenplay is also filled with genuine and clever dialogue; there are some moving bits — Rocco having the talk with his teenage daughter is very sweet, moving and so beautifully delivered; and the reaction of the group to one of the secrets and how the one having that secret feels is heartbreaking — and plenty of intelligent humour, funny gags and sharp one-liners.

The characters are interesting, real and believable as they have incredible characterization and development — whether it's Eva, the psychologist who doesn't accept herself or Peppe, the struggling, overweight gym teacher — and the actors make each one of them likeable despite their flaws. In addition, the cast has such wonderful chemistry they make the friendship between the characters feel so genuine — the friendship between Lele and Peppe is the first that comes to my mind as it's the strongest, and it was kind of uplifting and exciting to see Lele cover Peppe's secret rather than coming clean and telling the truth.

In a few words, Perfect Strangers is how I'd like most if not all Italian movies to be, smart, thought-provoking and funny at the same time.

2 comments :

  1. Nice review! I feel like the only Italian films I've seen lately have been their Oscar contenders. I didn't realize their film industry was in a state.

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    1. Thanks! The Oscar contenders are usually the only I watch too because the rest is usually so bad I don't even bother with them.

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