Reality strikes at dinner; Perfetti Sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers) (2016), dir: Paolo Genovese

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I will start by saying that I absolutely loved, loved, loved the film!! It is realistic, funny, cruel, and tender. The idea in its core is simple, and yet brilliant. Seven friends meet for dinner and one of them suggests that they put the “black boxes of their lives”, in other words their phones on display and make their use public for the night; calls, texts, social media activity etc. The film’s epitome is that it is wiser to admit we do not really know anyone, and to avoid games that set our secrets at the risk of exposure.

As Dr. House wisely had been proclaiming for 8 seasons….

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There are three couples in the story (or four, if we count Peppe and his absent “girlfriend”, Lucilla) therefore, it is only natural to assume that infidelity is part of the many and varied revelations of their turbulent night together. Rocco (Marco Giallini), a plastic surgeon and his wife Eva (Kasia Smutniak), a therapist have a teenage daughter, then Lele (Valerio Mastandrea), a lawyer and his wife Carlotta (Anna Foglietta) have two young kids, and finally Bianca (Alba Rohrwacher) and Cosimo (Edoardo Leo) are the newlyweds. Peppe (Giuseppe Battiston), a school teacher, is a divorcee who is in a serious relationship for the first time in many years.  The guys in the group are childhood friends, and the dynamic of their relationship represents a perfect image of male friendship and the instinctive collusion among them, which leads to a phone trade that is a major turning point in the storyline.

CINEMA. DOPO ZALONE ONDA COMMEDIE DA THE PILLS A SIANI

It is a funny coincidence to watch the film only a few days after I experienced a personal revelation of my own; someone I have known my entire life and strongly believed to be incapable of infidelity (due to his reserved nature and fear of criticism), turned out to be an expert in deceiving his family for years. Bizarrely enough, infidelity is not what one would expect in a relationship-centred film such as this, as most twists are generated under adultery’s deceiving umbrella. Despite my prejudice regarding the cliché presentation of cheating in films, I was served with a delicious secret that stripped friendship of its virtues and established cynicism’s eternal reign over human actions.

One room-set films inevitably resemble theatrical plays and therefore, should have particularly dynamic performances, an original script, and well-written dialogues that can strip their characters in a revelatory and cathartic way such as, Polanski’s Carnage (2011),  Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), Mankiewicz’s Sleuth (1972), Nichols’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (1966), etc. Perfetti Sconosciuti meets all the aforementioned criteria for delivering a memorable cinematic experience that reminds us of how complicated and secretive people can be, even the ones we could swear we know best.

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The performances are spotless, and the cast is evidently carefully chosen for their parts. No wonder the film managed to collect nine  David Di Donatello nominations, winning in the Best Film and Best Script categories. Drama builds up gradually, following the calibre of the respective revelations, and by the end of it everyone is numb and hurt. However, smart and humorous lines bring out the funny side of it all. Some of the themes around which the film revolves are parenting, love, sex, fidelity, separation, homosexuality, acceptance, hypocrisy, guilt, psychotherapy, relationship with exes, work, lawsuits, and of course the Eclipse, with the moon being the only supporting actor.

People in their 30’s (and over) can easily identify with the characters who are married (or in serious relationships), some of them with kids. In contrast, viewers in their 20’s, like myself, could treat the film as a cautionary tale about the consequences of keeping secrets from your significant other, and your friends in the future when life might become incomprehensibly confusing and hard. Having watched the film, I am tempted to suggest the game next time I meet up with friends for dinner in order to have a first-hand experience of the damage that such an intrusion of privacy can evoke (while enjoying biodynamic wine, naturally…).

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I adored the final scene where we are shown how the night would have ended, if the group of friends hadn’t played the game. It got me thinking which scenario would be best; the brutality of each other’s inner, indigestible reality served on a cold platter, or the continuation of hypocrisy and secrecy?! It is tempting to imagine a reality where everything is out in the open and thus, there are no deeper layers of people’s lives and feelings. On the other hand, drama goes hand in hand with human relationships and for some it would be a shame to separate those two… Also, it is undeniable that a sense of liberation and catharism occurs for all parties involved when something that has been kept a secret with great cost and mental effort is finally exposed.

Personally, I would choose to play every time.

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Author: CinémAmoureuse

I grew up in Athens and have adored cinema since I was a kid. My very first intense cinematic experience was the Titanic at the age of 5. I love the 40-60's b&w Hollywood era and I enjoy expressing my amateur thoughts on all films that come my way.

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