2017 was a unique year for Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia in that it is the only year in his whole career that he premiered two feature films. The first was the very funny and disturbing “The Bar” (read my review here), whereas later in the year saw him release “Perfect Strangers (Perfectos desconocidos)”; a film that was another first for him in that it was the first remake he had ever been involved in.
“Perfect Strangers”, which is a remake of the 2016 Italian film of the same name, has a simple but brilliant (not to mention, very funny) idea at its core. On the night of a rare Blood Moon, a group of long time friends come together for a dinner party. After being friends for around twenty years, with these dinner parties being a semi-regular occurrence, there is a feeling among the group that something is missing. While the occasion is pleasant enough, it is lacking something; a spark to elevate this get together from something more than just the norm. In an effort to add spice to the evening, it is decided that everyone in attendance must place their mobile phones on the table in front of everyone and any message, voice call or photo received must be shared with the rest of the group. For a group of friends who have known each other so long, and share everything with each other, surely such a game would be pointless......then why was everyone so hesitant or nervous to play this game? Whatever the outcome, it is safe to say that his dinner party will be unlike any other; but will the friendships and relationships survive this night after their secrets begin to be revealed?
I feel I need to point out that I have never actually seen the original film that this is based on, so I am unable to report on how this film works as a remake nor if it differs in any way. Looking at trailers for both films, as well as reading their synopsis, it appears that Alex de la Iglesia and his regular writing partner, Jorge Guerricaechevarría have stayed very close to the Italian original. While I would never assert that this is one of Iglesia's best films, I will say that I had a very enjoyable time with “Perfect Strangers”. I think he has done a great job of casting the film and creating a believable atmosphere where after being with these characters for just a brief time, you can tell that they have been friends for ages. The seven friends all come from different walks of life but there is an easiness between them all. The banter between them is natural, funny and with a lot of ribbing of each other. They feel like long time friends, rather than just a cast of actors put together for a film. The highlight for me was Pepon Nieto who plays Pepe, a former gym teacher and the only one of the group who is unmarried. He brings depth and a sadness to his role, mainly due to the way society has treated him because of his secret that is eventually uncovered from a phone call. He comes across as a genuine person of good, and this is shown in a great scene where he becomes angry when he is forced into a situation to protect another one of his friend's secrets, that he does not in any way approve of. The other standout in the cast was Eduard Fernandez who plays Alfonso, husband to Eva, and the only character who truly appears to have nothing to hide during this game. When it comes to the women characters I must say that they have been portrayed much broader then the men, to the point that two of them come across as rather neurotic. I must say though that Dafne Fernandez is a stunningly gorgeous woman, and with her character of Blanca, is the standout of the female cast.
The whole point of this film is to ponder the question just how well can you know someone, even when you have known them for so long. Everyone has a side to themselves that they hide from others, so can you truly know someone. As such, the text messages and phone calls that follow begin to reveal secrets of each of the characters. As this is the crux of the film, I do not have a problem with such a conceit but the amount that comes out in such a little time is both convenient and quite unrealistic. Sure, I understand that everyone of these characters could have these secrets, but to have them all exposed on the same night is a stretch. While the game starts off innocent enough, each successive secret dramatically alters the status quo amongst the friends, as affairs and fetishes are exposed, one of them is outed as a homosexual, while a few of them realise that their partners are unhappy within their marriages. Iglesia does an expert job of keeping and increasing the tension as secrets are exposed within the group, to create a film that is both incredibly funny (in his usual dark way) and at times, quite suspenseful. Being that this is a film that is essentially set solely around a dinner table, he is unable to have the visual flourishes that are the norm for an Iglesia film, but instead he keeps the performances real and the film moving at a natural and fluent pace, making the whole thing a joy to watch. The film has been edited superbly by Domingo Gonzalez giving it an effortless feel to it all; it just flows so beautifully that you never are aware of a jarring edit once. It feels very natural and again real (which I assume to be a hard task as Alex de la Iglesia's films tend to live in a slightly heightened world). While much of the enjoyment found in “Perfect Strangers” is due to the dark comedy as these friendships dissolve in the most amusing ways, the absolute highlight of the film comes from a phone call a father has with his teenage daughter about whether or not she is ready to lose her virginity that night. It is such a beautiful moment, stunningly performed, that is also so powerful. It is not a secret that is revealed here but just how great a father this man is, and how lucky a daughter she is to have him love her and to trust her. Seriously, for a film of such absurdity to have such a powerful moment like this within it....; I cannot talk more highly about this scene, it is just a brilliant moment.
From brilliance to what I felt didn't work in the film, and that was the whimsical nature or events that happen from time to time in “Perfect Strangers”. I really cannot go into too much detail in regards to this because it all has to do with the film's ending, but for me, it just did not work at all. Not only did I feel it went totally against the tone of the entire film, it also felt like a massive cheat. It also adds very little to the film, and if it was removed, you would never have felt like the film was missing something. I understand that the same ending was used in the original film, but personally I felt like this was a chance where Alex de la Iglesia could have made a change, and the film would be stronger for it. Obviously this is my own opinion, but I thought this level of whimsy and dare I say it, magic, ruined part of what made the film so great. Another thing that I did not like was the visual representation of the blood moon; it was very cheap and a poor CGI creation.
Overall, while I did have a great time with “Perfect Strangers”, it is not what I would call one of Alex de la Iglesia's best. It is almost like a “B-side” movie from him, which may seem a little harsh as the results are very entertaining. The film is well cast, and moves fluently and quickly through its story and is very funny. It is an interesting look at how technology has taken over our lives and how it is complicit with our deceits and secrets, asking the question as to whether or not it has improved our lives or changed them for the worst. It is interesting stuff told in a comedic manner that is the trademark of director Alex de la Iglesia. While I preferred “The Bar” more out of his two 2017 films (mainly due to its ambition), “Perfect Strangers” is still a fun, if minor, entry to this talented director's oeuvre.