A Film a Week - Perfect Strangers / Perfectos descondidos

How much do we know about one another? About our friends, neighbours, even spouses and family members? Do we occasionally have some secrets to keep? What do we tell them about our lives? How much do we want to tell them? What do we filter out as unimportant, less important, a thing to be told at the right time? Would we submit ourselves to an experiment in radical honesty, making all of our communications completely transparent for a period of time? Would we better off as the titular perfect strangers?

Let us say we have a group of coupled-up friends on a dinner in a fancy Madrid apartment. Three couples and one single man, to be precise. Men have been friends for a period of time, they play football together, and their spouses came into the crew a bit later.

Alfonso (Eduard Fernández) and Eva (Spanish star Belén Rueda) are the hosts, he is a mediocre plastic surgeon “doing tits and asses for waitresses and hair-dressers”, she is a psychotherapist coming from the upper-class doctors’ family. Some of their conflicts are about their professions and class background, while the others concern their teenage daughter and their different approaches to her.

Antonio (Ernesto Alterio) and Ana (Juana Acosta) are a middle-class couple with two children whose principal problem is his mother living with them.

Eduardo (boyishly good-looking Eduardo Noriega) and Blanca (Dafne Fernández) are seemingly happy newly-weds with quite active sexual life. She is not satisfied with her “new girl” status in the group, while he is one of those man-child types always going into risky business ventures to keep the sense of an adventure.

Pepe (comedic gold Pepón Nieto) is an over-weight gym teacher who was supposed to come with his new girlfriend Lucia who suddenly fell ill.

At one point, the conversation takes a turn towards their absent friend who is going through a complicated divorce since his wife caught him in act via text messages. The women around the table are taking the standpoint that he is a pig for cheating on his wife. The men, however, blame the technology and their friend’s naivety not to remove his “digital footprint” because people were cheating and having secrets since the dawn of time but the families were not destroyed because of that.

So everybody agrees to the experiment until the end of the night (which is, by the way, the night of two celestial phenomena – blood moon and lunar eclipse, suggesting some crazy behaviour to ensue) in which every call would be put on loudspeakers, every text message and chat would be read aloud, and every photo shown. As the night goes on, the secrets that would surface are getting more and more serious and attempts of cover-up turn into even bigger chaos threatening to dissolve marriages and friendships.

If it seems vaguely familiar, just try to change some of the characters’ names and the setting city from Madrid to Rome and you will get exactly the same film from a year before directed by Paolo Genovese. Even the title is the same, and this remake directed by the Spanish veteran of horrors and cheeky comedies Álex de la Iglesia is one of the “frame for frame” sort. We might find some traces of de la Iglesia’s regular collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarría in the writing, especially in the witty dialogues, but there is little to no chaos with only a dash of fantasy sequences de la Iglesia is known for. As with Genovese’s film, this version of Perfect Strangers would work better on stage.

That is a pity since the Spanish director has proven to be the master of on-screen chaos capable to move fluidly through genres, but to maintain the quality of his films and the tempo of a film in two years. It seems that he is picking up the pace in the last couple of years, and some sacrifices are being made. While not being a bad film at all, Perfect Strangers would be remembered one of de la Iglesia’s less stylish and less necessary works.

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