A refreshing comedy-drama about ordinary Israelis: ‘Perfect Strangers’

When you watch Israeli movies and TV series, you will see many Mossad agents and anti-terrorist commandos, Haredi families and comedians getting into all kinds of silly situations. What you won’t see much of are middle-class secular Israelis, the kind of people who live in the suburbs and like to barbecue, ordinary people who look a lot like their counterparts around the world. But it’s only these kinds of Israelis who are the focus of Lior Ashkenazi’s mannered comedy-drama, Perfect strangers, and it’s refreshing to watch.

The israeli Perfect strangers is the latest adaptation of a 2016 Italian film of the same name about several couples at a dinner party who agree, while the meal lasts, to read aloud all the texts they receive and reproduce all their conversations on the speaker, in a predictable and dramatic way . disastrous results. This story has already been remade in more than a dozen versions around the world and it is also a play, the Hebrew version of which is currently in Habima. Given that Israelis are as attached to their phones as anyone, perhaps even more, this Israeli reworking makes sense, and is an entertaining and well-made movie from start to finish.

Moran Atias and Yossi Marshek play the couple who organize dinner for their childhood friends. They are the best of the bunch: he is a plastic surgeon and she is an indulgent mother to her son, a computer nerd. His friends are a contractor and his wife (Hanan Savyon and Rotem Abuhab), a shop owner and his new younger girlfriend (Guy Amir and Shira Naor), and a sports coach who is still single (Avi Grainik). It turns out that everyone has something to hide, both from their partners and the rest of the group, and as the night progresses, tempers fray and long-buried grudges surface.

There’s no way to go into more detail about the plot without revealing spoilers and ruining the suspense. But the point of the movie is that everyone has something to hide and that our willingness not to look too much into the dark corners of other people’s lives is what holds us together.

Before the era of smartphones, it was much easier to look the other way. But as history shows, a smartphone can function as a kind of grenade that destroys everything around it. Because they contain so much information, they have the power to damage the polite fictions behind which we hide, and what they contain can cause irreparable damage to our relationships.

Lior Ashkenazi in ‘Footnote’. (credit: RAN MENDELSON)

With a long career as one of Israel’s most successful leading men, Ashkenazi has won three Ophir Awards and starred in movies and television series such as Note, Walk on water, Big ferocious wolves, Late marriage and Valley of tears – It’s no wonder that in his directorial debut, he worked well with the actors.

Ashkenazi has assembled a cast of some of Israel’s most entertaining artists, many of whom are better known for comedy than drama, but all deliver polished and credible performances. Amir and Savyon are famous for their television comedy and two very successful farces, Maktub and Sorry. They aren’t the most obvious choices for playing extremely dramatic roles, but they are up to the challenge, as is Abuhab, an actress also known for comedy. This is a real ensemble movie and you think the characters are old friends.

Israeli touches have been cleverly added to the story. The surgeon is obsessed with his high-tech barbecue gadget, which sends text messages to let him know when it’s hot enough to start grilling meat.

This same character is racked with guilt over the feeling that a friend of his was killed in the military for something he did. His wife worries about what her son will do in the army when he is drafted, etc. Each version of Perfect strangers adds local color, which enhances the universal aspects of the story. Your attention will never drift as you watch the movie, and when it’s over, your eyes may drift to your partner’s phone, or you may decide to delete your own search history.


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