Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
PERFECT STRANGERS (PERFECTOS DESCONOCIDOS)
Rated R, 101 minutes
Directed by: Manolo Caro
Starring: Cecilia Suárez, Bruno Bichir, Mariana Treviño, Manuel García Rulfo, Miguel Rodarte, Franky Martin, Ana ClaudiaTalancón, Camila Valero
The high-concept hook of director Manolo Caro’s PERFECT STRANGERS (PERFECTOS DESCONOCIDOS) is simple: seven childhood friends meet up during an eclipse for dinner, drinks and – thanks to a daring party game involving the participants’ smartphones – disrespectful disputes. What lies beneath the Mexican remake of Paolo Genovese’s incendiary Italian dramedy PERFFETTI SCONOSCIUTI is more complex than the old cautionary adage “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” It’s interested in making audiences reconsider the transparency of their tech footprint. This deliciously wicked, wonderfully provocative chamber piece is not only universal in its audience appeal (which explains why this is the 5th time it’s been remade), it has cunning, clever twists that make for thoroughly engaging entertainment – particularly those who delight in cinematic marital discord.
Psychologist Eva (Cecilia Suárez) and her plastic surgeon husband Antonio (Bruno Bichir) are expecting a pleasant gathering of their closest friends in their fancy city apartment. It’s the evening of a lunar eclipse and they’ve invited bickering longtime-marrieds Flora (Mariana Treviño) and Ernesto (Miguel Rodarte), newlyweds Ana (Ana Claudia Talancón) and Mario (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and recently single Pepe (Franky Martín) over for a home cooked meal, wine and good gossip. What no one expects is that the night will take a dramatic turn when Eva proposes they play a revealing game with their smartphones that exposes their deepest, darkest secrets by reading aloud private texts and emails as well as taking phone calls on speakerphones. And lucky for us, the gang has a lot of issues.
Caro’s unobtrusive artistic panache makes his iteration unique, distinguishing itself from other versions like France’s NOTHING TO HIDE (which is available on Netflix), South Korea’s INTIMATE STRANGERS, Turkey’s STRANGER IN MY POCKET, or Spain’s PERFECT STRANGERS. He instills the narrative with a cultural specificity that feels even more cutting when the tension is mounting. Sarcastic stingers sing louder (Pepe’s rooster text sound is a cheeky addition) and the caustic comments cut deeper. The precision with which the reveals are timed will surprise audiences caught in the current of the dramatic undertow. While the interpersonal character dynamics provide the grandest show, Caro hasn’t forgotten to add heart to the hijnks, shown when Eva and Antonio’s teen daughter Nina (Camila Valero) calls her father for sex advice. The scene, which appears in all versions of this stage play of sorts, is integrated seamlessly, providing the necessary contrast betwixt the adults’ complications revolving around sex and the younger generations uncomplicated viewpoint of it.
His stellar ensemble is the best cast so far. They have perfect chemistry, breathing life into the material, approaching their character construction as a team and as individuals. They each have their timing down, reacting through body language cues – ones Caro catches in medium and wide shots around the circular marble table. The blocking of the scenes also plays a part: Ernesto and Pepe scheme behind a fish tank, their faces half obscured by water, reflecting the secrets they’re both hiding under the surface.
Sandra Cabriada’s elegant production design also adds further depth and dimension, as it subtly reflects the characters’ evolving psyches and predicaments. Eva and Antonio’s apartment is a silent character within itself. There’s an open design to it with the kitchen flowing into the dining room (the center of the narrative and heart of the apartment space), which splinters into the hallway, living room and outdoor balcony. However, once the arguments grow tenuous, the space begins to feel closed off by sliding doors, bookshelves and dark teal painted walls. The art department also earns high marks decorating the space: A surrealist painting of dismembered body parts hangs behind the hosts, sketches of hunted game animals lurk behind the guests, and sculptures of heads are forever locked in the anguish of accusatory dialogue – just like the characters themselves.
PERFECT STRANGERS (PERFECTOS DESCONOCIDOS) opens on January 11.