From Luis Bunuel’s dark classic Exterminating Angel to the raucous Steve Carrell comedy Dinner For Schmucks, the hellish dinner party scenario is familiar to cinema audiences. Through some inventive twists and a plot device that plugs straight into contemporary culture, the smart, acerbic Italian Film Perfect Strangers (which screened at the 2016 Lavazza Italian Film Festival and was a box office hit in Italy) enlivens this format.
Here, a middle class Italian dinner party turns into a disaster when the guests decide to play a game in which they make public every text, email and phone call they receive during the night. Consequently, lies, secrets, hidden jealousies and infidelities are exposed with both comic and tragic effect.
Perfect Strangers has met with criticism for a number of reasons, two in particular. It has been suggested that the characters are not sympathetic. This is a dubious criticism given that the premise of the film is to expose the aspects of the characters’ lives that they would normally want to hide. Consequently, the film revolves around their least sympathetic traits being put on display.
Also, some have suggested that the ending is trite, this could not be further from the truth. Without issuing any spoilers it would appear that some people have not picked up on a vital twist. The film contains an unusual device that is, admittedly, easy to miss but one that adds a confronting, almost chilling level to the drama.
A more legitimate criticism is that the film’s deliberately confined dinner table setting often makes it feel like a filmed play which some audiences may find unappealing. Still, director Paolo Genovese develops the numerous mini-dramas between the guests in a way that stops the film becoming dull or repetitive.
For most of the film the dialogue is insightful and flows organically and as a result of fine performances from the entire ensemble, the characters, despite being connected to a few questionable scenarios, are believable.
Perfect Strangers shows that a film that relies on a smart script and fine acting rather than violent action and headache inducing special effects can attract a substantial audience.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2.
Director(s): Paolo Genovese.
Release date: 26th Jan 2017.
Running time: 97 mins.
Screening at: Cinema Nova and Palace Cinemas
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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