Last updated February 27th 2017
Perfect Strangers (Perfetti sconosciuti), directed by Paolo Genovese, is as riveting and entertaining as it is deeply disturbing. Any gathering of friends, especially in the movies, has its share of secrets and revelations, yet it feels as though the boundaries between private and public are currently stretched to the breaking point, and all due to our growing reliance (obsession?) with a small, yet all too smart gadget: the cellphone. Whether we are talking, texting, or sharing photos and music, for many of us the device is almost an extension of our minds, and we tend to assume, that like the myriad thoughts in our head, the information in our cell phones is private. As many have discovered to their anger and chagrin – it ain’t necessarily so. Yet does the prevalence of cell phones and their myriad capabilities not only enable but encourage an extended virtual life, a secret self, hidden from public view?
Genovese sets it all up very cleverly, as the camera shifts between several couples who are getting ready to meet for a dinner party hosted by Eva (Kasia Smutniak) and Rocco (Marco Giallini). There are intimations of secrets and tension lurking beneath the surface, Lele (Valerio Mastandrea) and his wife Carlotta (Anna Foglietta) are certainly hiding something from one another, and the question of privacy is raised from the outset, when Eva, having looked into daughter Sophia’s (Benedetta Porcaroli) purse, finds condoms. Newlyweds Bianca (Alba Rohrwacher) and Cosimo (Edoardo Leo) are still in the throes of new love, or at the very least, sexual passion. Beppe (Giuseppe Battiston) rounds out the male foursome, all friends from childhood, with the women becoming part of the group as they enter into a relationship with the men. This was to have been the night that Beppe finally introduces his new girlfriend, but he arrives alone, explaining that she is not feeling well.
It’s common knowledge that in horror movies you really don’t want to go upstairs, likewise, if you are ever in a movie about friendships, and someone suggests playing a new game – just say no, because that scenario has to end badly. Yet when Eva suggests that they all put their cell phones on the table, with every text and conversation made public, no one can say no, because refusing to play implies that there is something to hide. The ensuing evening shows an acute awareness of the nuances of friendship, and marriages, as the texts and calls begin to come in. As might be expected, those who know they have something to hide make great efforts to do so, with many comic moments along the way. The comic timing is impeccable, creating much suspense along the way, often dispersed in laughter, then built up again. Yet the questions raised in the film – regarding issues of privacy (if no one knows does that mean it’s OK?), friendship (what would you be willing to do for a friend?) and the sustainability of relationships, are both provocative and pertinent.
The ensemble cast gives a vivacious and convincing performance, although one must admit that as more and more is revealed, many of these characters do not come off so well. Guiseppe Battiston is eloquent in his expressions, a delight to observe over the course of this crazy evening. Although the film calls to mind several ‘group of friends/what have we done with our lives/our friendships’ films such as The Big Chill and About Alex, in contrast with American cinema, this film does not reach out for epiphanies and feel-good closure. Genovese instead chooses a different path, one that offers food for thought and conversation.
Director: Paolo Genovese; Screenplay: Filippo Bologna, Paolo Costella, Genovese, Paola Mammini, Rolando Ravello; Cinematography: Fabrizio Lucci; Editor: Consuelo Catucci; Music: Maurizio Filardo, Fiorella Mannoia; Cast: Giuseppe Battiston, Anna Foglietta, Marco Giallini, Edoardo Leo, Valerio Mastandrea, Alba Rohrwacher, Kasia Smutniak, Benedetta Porcaroli.