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Film review: Perfect Strangers

Film & TV

Perfect Strangers, screening as part of the Italian Film Festival in Adelaide, is a modern take on the morality play with the mobile phone as the “God” who sees all.

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When seven good friends meet for dinner, they don’t expect to be dining with the seven deadly sins, but through the course of the evening lust, vanity, sloth and co are all on display, with a good measure of deceit thrown into the spicy mix.

By the end of the night, even those who were confident they had nothing to hide have been exposed in some way.

The dinner is hosted by Eva and Rocco, who are struggling to keep their marriage together and at odds over the behaviour of their teenage daughter. Guests Carlotta and Lele’s relationship is also floundering. Cosimo and Bianca are more recently married and still very much in love (at least on the surface), while Peppe arrives alone, despite having promised to bring his new partner.

In the course of a conversation about openness, Eva suggests they all put their mobile phones on the table, read out any texts that arrive and put calls on speaker so that everyone can hear them. As the meal progresses, texts and phone calls reveal more and more to the friends who thought they knew everything about each other.

An interesting twist in the final scenes raises the film’s big question: is it better to know the truth about each other or live in blissful ignorance? Unlike the old morality plays, Perfect Strangers makes no judgment; it leaves us to decide.

The commercial viability of the film’s light-hearted approach and zeitgeist-entrenched subject matter might suggest that director Paulo Genovese (A Perfect Family, Tutta Colpa di Freud) had his eyes firmly fixed on the box-office prize, but Perfect Strangers is very much in the tradition of commedia all’italiana: the laughter is bittersweet, tinged with an uncomfortable awareness of the moral failings of contemporary society.

That’s not to say there are any mind-blowing insights or in-depth analyses of social mores; ultimately, it’s just the middle classes banging on about their first-world problems. However, the script writers have done a damn fine job of making the conversation entertaining and the characters interesting, and the actors are all superb in their roles.

It’s a bit like going to dinner with friends. Bring a glass of wine and some cinema snacks and join the party!

Perfect Strangers is screening at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas on September 26, October 2 and October 8 as part of the Italian Film Festival, which opened yesterday and continues until October 12.

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