A few days after its release, the film reached the top of the list of most-watched films this week in Egypt, Lebanon and other countries in the region. He brought to the screen conversations that may be common in many parts of the Arab world, but usually take place at home, with friends or in low voices.
Some preferred to keep it that way. The film caused such an outcry in Egypt that it led to a series of lawsuits, and a member of parliament demanded a legislative session to discuss a complete ban on Netflix.
But it became a hot topic in living rooms, on talk shows and online, with many viewers hailing it for starting a conversation on issues ranging from social freedoms in the region to more queer representation in the Arab movies.
“Perfect Strangers” – which at one point became the most remade film in the history of cinema, including French, Russian and Mexican versions – tells the story of friends who play a game during the dinner: with their phones on the table, everyone has to share every message and phone call they receive with each other.
In the industry, some filmmakers have seen Arab production as a milestone. The latest remake features an all-star cast including Egyptian Mona Zaki and Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar, as well as Lebanese Nadine Labaki and Georges Khabbaz.
Zaki, who plays the role of wife in a dissatisfied couple, has come under criticism from some Egyptians in particular for a brief scene in which she pulls her underwear out from under her dress. This prompted the country’s actors union to speak out against the attacks on the star.
In a television interview, lawmaker Mostafa Bakri accused the film of “targeting” family values in Egypt, where a crackdown on the LGBTQ community has led to dozens of arrests. The legislature criticized the depiction of homosexuality and chose the storyline of a father navigating his daughter’s questions about sex.
When the TV presenter asked why he called a session in parliament over a movie that wasn’t made in Egypt, Bakri replied, “We should ban Netflix.”
The streaming company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Netflix has an age rating of 16+ on the film, which does not include nudity or sex scenes.
Egypt’s renowned film industry has long tackled issues such as adultery and sexual desire, and the Cairo International Film Festival awarded the original Italian version, “Perfetti Sconosciuti”, after its release in 2016.
Abeer Al-Najjar, Associate Professor of Media, noted the reaction to the film was part of growing attacks on social freedoms in the region. She noted that much of the outrage had focused on one of the female leads, Zaki, whose male counterpart in the film, her on-screen husband, also has a penchant for sexting.
An Egyptian joked on Facebook that the reality was probably more shocking than the plot: “People, if we made a realistic film about our society, Netflix would be embarrassed to show it.
Meanwhile, in a tweet, a Lebanese woman urged those who criticize the film “because it doesn’t ‘represent’ our society” to “face reality”. She wrote: “Our lives are as messy as they are in this movie and more.”
Farah Saafan in Cairo contributed to this report.