18 November 2023

Perfect Strangers, a brilliant Israeli film

Perfect Strangers was originally an Italian film made in 2016, then remade in Russian, French, Mexican and Arabic (2018) etc. With 18 successful remakes sofar, Perfect Strangers clearly used an easily adapt­able story­.

All the mobile phones were placed in the centre of the dinner table

Israeli movies and television series normally show comedies,  young soldiers or religious families, but less often middle-class, secular Israelis, the kinds of people who live in the sub­urbs like the rest of the middle class world.

But it is just these kinds of Israelis who were the focus of dir­ec­t­or Lior Ashkenazi’s Perfect Strangers (2021). Although the theme of Perfect Strangers remained ess­en­t­ially the same across all the it­er­ations of this movie, Ashkenazi added his own Isr­aeli spin on this version, his directorial debut. eg the surgeon was haunted with tragedy because a friend had been killed in the army. His wife in turn was anxious over her son’s entry into military, once he was conscripted.

Seven childhood friends, three couples and a newly divorced man, met in one of their homes, to catch up over a dinner and a LOT of drinks, and to watch a rare lunar eclipse. In order to add some ex­citement to the dinner, the hostess decided to play a game: every text message re­ceived on their phones was to be read out loud, and every incoming call answered on speakers. Despite the friends’ rel­uct­­an­ce, the 7 phones were placed in the centre of the table and left un­locked! Since Israelis are as attached to their phones as anyone, or more so, this Israeli reworking made sense.

Sharing every text message, call or notice that app­eared on their phones led to betrayals, secrets and unresolved issues, th­reatening their friendships and marriages. The game had predictably disastrous results, I'd say, but did the friends not realise that the process would expose dark secrets?

Actors Moran Atias and Yossi Marshek were the couple holding the din­ner party for their childhood friends, he a plastic surgeon and she a parent of a computer-nerd teen. Their friends are a contr­ac­t­or and his wife (Han­an Savyon and Rotem Abuhab), shop owner and young­er girl­friend (Guy Amir and Shira Naor) and a single sports coach (Avi Grainik). Apparently everyone had something to hide, both from their partners and the others, so that during the night, tempers frayed and long-buried grudges emerged.

But was this film really a comedy-drama? Ashkenazi ass­em­bled a cast of performers, many of whom were best known for tv comedy, not for extremely dramatic roles. I might not have seen any comedy, but I really did believe the characters were indeed old friends.

The point of the film, as I saw it, was that everyone has something to hide and that peoples’ willing­ness not to look too hard into the dark corners of others’ lives is in fact a safety mechanism. Before mobile telephones, few problems were presented. But as the story showed, a mobile phone could function as a bomb that de­stroyed ev­ery­thing around. Since mobiles contained so much information, they had the power to cause irreparable damage to relationships.

 The hosts and guests go out onto the balcony 
 to watch the lunar eclipe.

And as the dinner prog­ressed, the innocent, mundane calls became more revealing, more earth-shattering for every­one around the table. Sec­r­ets and lies about infid­el­­ities, money issues and ment­al ill health were expos­ed, leaving the once close-knit group comp­l­etely broken. [And the view­ers!].

The drama­tic path of the film steadily built to a dev­ast­ating crescendo that left all of the characters exposed; the il­lusions each had about the others may have been shattered for good. Every member of the group, friends they had known since high school, had been leading a double life! Perfect Strangers’ message was one for our time. The twist at the end, the same twist made in versions of the story from Italy, Leb­anon etc may have shocked viewers. But it was an effective device used to close the powerful story

Each national version of Perfect Strangers clearly added local col­our, which heightened the story’s universal aspects.  Although I don't know whether such a game would flush out embarrassing secrets amongst my own friends' dinner parties. Yet I still found it ir­on­ic that the diners’ own ph­ones really did betray their deepest held secrets and showed the ways hum­ans hide their true nat­ure! I act­ually believed whether this excellent film was asking whether honesty was indeed the best policy!?! Facing big and small secrets, the film show­ed friendships and marr­iag­es that were sev­erely tested. It did not show who would break up and who would get tog­ether again!


jabblog said...

That sounds an intriguing and interesting film. I don't think any gathering of mine would achieve such disastrous results.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

I think many of us and yes I include myself at times forget that people other then the British or the Americans make movies and TV shows, this sounds like an interesting and maybe somewhat difficult movie to watch for some

roentare said...

It is a movie that I have seen previously. True that humanity makes life but also fails it.

Deb said...

"A mobile phone could function as a bomb that destroyed everything around". What an unfortunate metaphor, given the bombs that destroyed so many Israeli families last month.

Andrew said...

The film sounds very watchable and uncomfortable at times. In the early days of phone systems in cars a friend received a call and did not inform the caller that he was in a car using a speakerphone connected to the car's sound system, with me as a passenger. The friend said something very inappropriate over the phone, not meant for other ears.

I am not going to say I have nothing to hide and you never know what others will blurt out. Our car can read out text messages when they arrive and I quickly turned that feature off.

dylan koltz hale said...

Perfect Strangers 2016 directed by Italian filmmaker Paolo Genovese gives viewers a seat at the table during a dinner party where participants must take all calls on speakerphone and all texts must be read aloud to prove they have nothing to hide. The game gradually sours as secrets are revealed that test the strength of friendships and marriages. The film won Best Film at the 2016 Italian Academy Awards.

I would have never been aware of Perfect Strangers if not for the Korean adaptation Intimate Strangers 2018 directed by Lee-Jay Kyoo which I recently watched on Delta Airlines in-flight. Shortly after discovering the Korean film was a remake I realized how interested I would be in comparing how cultures might tell the story differently. After viewing the Italian version I was initially underwhelmed at the contrast between the films as the Korean version is essentially a shot for shot remake, but as I began to reflect, I was able to recognize interesting distinctions between the films.

Now read a general critique of the story shared by the films, followed by a comparison of the cultural adaptations from the original Italian film to the Korean re-make.

Hels said...


true! I also don't think any gathering of mine would go in for that sort of "game". I don't know what people do inside the privacy of their homes, once the front door is closed, but revealing tacky secrets amongst old friends is embarrassing.

So my question is did the old friends not realise that playing the game might expose dodgy secrets?

Hels said...


the Italians might have been a bit anxious about the film when they made the first version of Perfect Strangers back in 2016. However it did very well, and so 20 other countries happily created their own version of the story. See the list of nations and dates in:

By the way no-one walked out of the cinema in disgust, when I was there :)

Hels said...


which country's film did you see? what did you think of it?

Hels said...


Remember that the Israeli film was made in 2021, long before the massacre of Israelis on 7th Oct 2023. However now I 100% agree we shouldn't use "bombing" metaphors in film, music or literature reviews. Especially since the Israeli version of Perfect Strangers is comedic (and dramatic).

Hels said...


the film I saw was very watchable, and I gather from the reviews that the other 20 versions were also excellent. But dramas can always make the viewer uncomfortable eg every time I see a wife or child abused by the husband/father in a film, I cannot sleep that night :(

So the sensitive, intelligent adult would never agree to the phone game, in a car or on the dining room table of friends.

Hels said...


thank you for the reference. I was very interested to read your thought "After viewing the Italian version I was initially underwhelmed at the contrast between the films as the Korean version is essentially a shot for shot remake. But as I began to reflect, I was able to recognize interesting distinctions between the films."

I would like to see the Russian version next.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, As far as I can tell, this films sounds like a hyper-dramatic soap opera, and besides there were no zombies in it, so I don't think that I would watch it. I think that actually most people's lives are pretty boring, and while we don't want Big Brother watching and reporting every second, nothing cataclysmic would happen if our messages were revealed. I just reviewed my recent phone and email messages, and perhaps I am a particularly boring person, but I am sure that there is zero entertainment value there.
Books and movies have always had these truth-revealing friendship games, with similar predictable results. This is why it is a good idea never to put personal information in writing.

Hels said...

I cannot remember any truth-revealing friendship games in films or books; by accident yes but not via a planned game. Did they exaggerate the amount of poor behaviour revealed by the phones? Probably.. that is what dramatic films and books do.
I wonder if the couples and friends would have been as hurt if the telephones had revealed drug abuse, tax evasion, gun smuggling or any non-sexual crime.

Fun60 said...

An interesting plot for a film or if you were using my phone it would be the most boring plot for a film.

Hels said...

Me too. My phone is filled with preferred times for the next dental appointment or the price of shirts I plan to order from Canada.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - an uncomfortable film to watch for some ... I can believe it happens - they wouldn't find much on mine. I'd enjoy the watch - cheers Hilary

hels said...

Exactly so. The film has done very well in every country it was made in, and I am assuming that more successful versions will be made in the near future.

Handmade in Israel said...

It sounds like a super interesting film to watch. I can't find the Israeli version on Netflix. Will look out for it.

Hels said...


super interesting... I saw the film here in Melbourne via Jewish International Film Festival
But you will find it more simply, I am assuming in local cinemas.
Be healthy and peaceful