[Film Review] Perfect Strangers (2016)

Perfect Strangers poster

English Title: Perfect Strangers
Original title: Perfetti sconosciuti
Year: 2016
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Paolo Genovese
Paolo Genovese
Filippo Bologna
Paolo Costella
Paola Mammini
Rolando Ravello
Music: Maurizio Filardo
Cinematography: Fabrizio Lucci
Giuseppe Battiston
Anna Foglietta
Marco Giallini
Edoardo Leo
Valerio Mastandrea
Alba Rohrwacher
Kasia Smutniak
Benedetta Porcaroli
Rating: 7.7/10

PERFECT STRANGERS is the latest BEST FILM winner in David di Donatello Awards, surprisingly wallops the more forbidding opponents like Gianfranco Rosi’s Golden Berlin Bear victor FIRE AT SEA (2016), Matteo Garrone’s TALE OF TALES (2015) and Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH (2015), considering its mini-scaled, nocturnal, play-like setting.

The story takes place in Rome, present day, altogether restricted in one evening, among seven tight-knitted friends, three couples and a recent divorcé during a dinner party hosted by Rocco (Giallini), a cosmetic surgeon and his much younger wife Eva (Smutniak), a headshrinker, in their bourgeois apartment, they have a 16-year-old daughter whose relationship with Eva is under strain. Other two couples are Lele (Mastandrea) and Carlotta (Foglietta), who have two young children, and the newly-wed Cosimo (Leo) and Bianca (Rohrwacher), the only single person is Peppe (Battiston), who doesn’t bring his new girlfriend with him, which is to the discontent of the rest, since none of them have been met her yet, and there is always a reason behind.

What turns a standard dinner gathering among friends to an unforeseen disaster is a game proposed by Eva, all of them leave their phones on the table, whoever receives a phone-call, a message whether it is a text message or from WhatsApp, they must answer the call on speaker so everyone else can hear the conversation (without the caller’s knowledge certainly), or show the received message to others, to prove that there are absolutely no dark secrets among themselves. Needless to say, that is an untruth, everybody has his or her own little or big secrets, yet if you have not in, the consequence is self-evident, especially for those espoused, so they can only pray that those secrets will not make contact that evening, which, also of course, is a wishful thinking. Plus, we are all subconsciously inclined to have a peek of other people’s private affairs, and wallow in schadenfreude (if there will be any) from a safe place (e.g. as a viewer), and in director Paolo Genovese’s competent hands, step by step, each of these seven adults will unwillingly lay bare their skeletons in the closet, from less startling issues of seeing a psychiatrist or in the schedule for a boob job, to more calamitous ones, which would inevitably terminate at least one marriage and sour a few friendships.

Compellingly tapping into the Mediterranean frame-of-mind with layers of revelations gingering up the plot, Genovese also brightly devices ballast for the next-level disclosure from their dangerous game, setting the scene on a lunar eclipse night, pragmatically offers some visual distraction and break from the heated tension sprung around the dinner table, in one particularly neat move, during a smoking break, a phone-swapping scheme has been introduced with ripple effects which would be far more intricate and amusing than one might have surmised.

Secrets, secrets, secrets, some are disclosed to all of them, some are cunningly revealed only to the eyes of spectators, in order not to spoil the fun, I am just saying that I’m fascinated to get a grasp of why in the first place, Eva suggests to play such a game? Is there a hidden agenda? Well, Genovese seems to intimate that there is, a masterstroke to lure viewers into multiple viewings!

A talented coterie of actors, the mainstays of current Italian cinema, implements a totally absorbing melodrama interspersed with top-shelf comedic flair and naturalistic theatrics. Giallini is sterling under his wise and prescient phlegm, Mastandrea is a wonderful specimen of emotional forbearance and Battiston comes strong in his out-of-blue discharges with resounding empathy, only Leo slumps into a stock and less interesting persona of a dyed-in-the-wool cheater; in the distaff side, Rohrwacher infuses a genuine innocence which will only subject her character Bianco into a more helpless corner once the plot thickens; Foglietta fleshes out an impression of a more forceful and intransigent loose cannon after Anna being hit by a (false) bolt out of the blue which pulverises all her beliefs; Smutniak, masks in her stunned ambiguity, makes us wonder is she safe from her secret at the end of that dreadful evening?

Or, maybe it has never happened! In the final legerdemain, Genovese leaves a double-edged finale in an unexpected turn, unveils what would happen if the game is vetoed on the spot, the status quo stays put, secrets remain intact, although some are too big to cover in the long run. Staring out as a mordant parody throwing shades at our over-reliance on today’s digital technology and its omnipresent intrusion on our privacy under the claim of convenience, PERFECT STRANGERS, as its titular fittingly indicates, instead, examines a more essential truth about the permanent opaqueness in every and each one of us, the sheer inscrutability of a human soul, so, do you dare to play the game with your closest friends? Think it twice.

Perfect Strangers 2016

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