Perfect Strangers screened during the Palace Cinemas 2016 Italian Film Festival and was one of my favourite films last year.
It was a box office hit in Italy and the Tribeca Film Festival praised the script for it’s ‘masterful flow between comedy and drama’. Director Paola Genovese uses our obsession with smart phones and how our lives are ruled and/or ruined by them, as the diving board for a triple somersault into the Olympic size pool that floats human nature, relationships, communication and secrecy.
The action takes place at a dinner table. Seven friends, who seem to think they know each other very well, gather together for an evening meal at the home of a couple and their teenage daughter, the trio are obviously suffering some familial angst and not doing a great job at concealing it.
Let the games begin.
We gather the host and hostess have money, as their home is very comfortable and chic. Prior to the guests arriving we’re privy to a little inside info. We are shown some mysterious behaviour on behalf of a few of our diners and discover there’s trouble at mill. Why does one of the women take off her underwear and place it in a living room drawer before she leaves the house with her husband? Who is the mystery caller that forces the husband to take the call, out of earshot, in the bathroom?
Over the next 97 minutes we become the voyeur and witness the unravelling on a grand scale of lives, relationships and identities. Our hosts are the kind, loving and a little Zen, plastic surgeon husband married to the beautiful ice queen therapist. Their teenage daughter is trying to decide if she’s ready to relinquish her virginity. Couple one are the macho guy and his younger newish bride who looks like she could front an indie pop band. Couple two: the understated elegantly groomed and secret drinker married to the annoying and seemingly uptight angry bloke and finally, the beloved single friend who holds mythic status in all their eyes and is supposed to bring his new girlfriend to meet and greet for the first time.
We don’t know it yet, but we’re about to feast on a smorgasbord of secrets, lies, collusion, adultery, intolerance, legalities, perjury and homophobia. Nearly all of them are sitting on a mountain of hidden truths, and are practised at the art of falsity.
The blurb for the film says ‘Let’s play a game then. We’ll all put our phones on the table…’
Ice Queen hostess suggests a dinner game, they should all put their mobile phones, face up, on the table while they eat, drink and be merry, or otherwise. With a little hesitation from a few, eventually, they all commit.
The rules are that any text received must be read aloud. Any incoming call has to be answered and taken on speakerphone.
What follows is an outing par excellence of the real lives behind the façade that these friends present to the world and one another.
Sophisticated people have sophisticated means of keeping the wolves from their doors and this film is full of the clever manoeuvres that clever people use to avoid being caught out. It’s very edgy at times and I can’t imagine many of them would have tasted much of what they were eating.
Perfect Strangers is a smart, funny, sad and moving rumination on modern culture and how our humanity has been impacted by technology. Is the world of computers, iPads, mobile phones and social media turning us into creatures of deception, or is it just enabling our already alive and well, skewed desires? Is technology revealing ourselves to ourselves as we have always been, but now with endless opportunity to hide our shadows? Are our inner beasts more transparent or more easily hidden?
Who knows? What’s interesting is recognising in Genovese’s movie, the ability in all of us to stray, to create drama and chaos, get caught and potentially implode our lives.
The way this mod Shakespearian tale wraps up is brilliant.
Due for release January 26 at Palace Cinemas.