Imagine this: you’re in your bed, your wife is brushing her teeth in the bathroom and on the nightstand her phone gives the light buzz of a Whatsapp message. You bend over and read: “Mario: ur already in bed? I want u soooo bad…”
Do you regret having checked on your wife? Or do you confront her directly? Would you rather not have known about her – possible – promiscuous conduct? Or do you think, guiltily, “Well, let her have her Mario … as long as my Olivia doesn’t know about my John…”. And, can you imagine what would have happened when you would not have discovered your spouse’s message?
With an unexpected twist at the end of his 2016 Perfetti sconosciuti (aka Perfect Strangers) director and main writer Paolo Genovese (most recently Sei mai stata sulla luna?, 2015, and Tutta colpa di Freud, 2014) seeks to explore exactly this: what happens when seven close friends open the black boxes of their cell phones to each other? Have they secrets? Are they telling each other everything? How true are their friendships, and how solid their relationships? On what was intended to be a cozy dinner in which the new lover of Peppe, strongly performed by Giuseppe Battiston, would have been introduced, they actually let each other in on what their phones expel during that one evening. We will not see Peppe’s lover but that relationship will come to play a major part in the story as the carrier of one of the few, if not the only, displays of true friendship during the dramatic developments that enroll around the dinner table. Actor Valerio Mastandrea (as Lele) performs eminent acting in defending his friend, Peppe and his unexpected relationship.
Perfetti sconosciuti is well acclaimed both as a movie and a screenplay, and indeed, acting, dialogues and story are strong and humorous enough to win the hearts of many. That the movie won the prize of the public’s favorite at the Leiden Film Festival comes as no surprise.
Genovese is however not very original when all friends present at the dinner table appear to have more and deeper secrets than they implied when beginning their dangerous game. Admittedly, there would be little story without any secrets being revealed, but that point is stretched to unlikeliness. Genovese needs this however to show that the actors in this silly game clearly have underestimated the brute force this plenitude of openness turns out to administer on their lives and interrelations. Lives that were – as is revealed when the plot is unfolding – not too stable to begin with. They conclude, as worded by Lele, that ‘this game was not such a good idea after all’. Director Genovese leaves it upon the spectator to decide: better to come out in the open in the first place, or better to allow each other one’s secrets?
The movie balances between drama and comedy, and I dare to question if the dramatic aspects, and possibilities, of the movie did not get underexposed in the light of the humorous angle. The truths escaping from the cell phones that are lying open and exposed on the dinner table, are far from innocent and it seems unlikely that when they would be left in the dark this would be an acceptable life situation. Of course, people, even spouses, conceal things from each other, they hide and lie, but should that stay covered up? The interesting questions are if our private phones should remain private and if they are a – new born – invitation to secrecy. Genovese seems to think that the latter is true in anyway, but if we should do otherwise – be more open towards each other – remains unanswered. That is to say … does it? Go see for yourself in one of the 28 cinema’s it is currently playing.
Film stills and trailer: Medusa Film, Italy.