Last updated: 4 months ago
The first Arabic Netflix movie Perfect Strangers – in Arabic: ‘As-hab wala ‘A'azz (أصحاب ولا أعزّ); “No Dearer Friends”) has sparked a public debate, especially in Egypt. On social media and TV talk shows, critics have denounced the film as a threat to family and religious values, encouraging homosexuality and unfit for Arab societies. Others say that many people are in denial about what happens behind closed doors in real life.
The Netflix movie offers several subtitles (German, French, Hebrew, Modern Standard Arabic), however, for unknown reasons, there are no English subs. But there is a trick, as you will see in this article.
Perfect Strangers in Arabic Hide
- The Plot
- Why is Perfect Strangers controversial?
- Reactions in the Arab World and Egypt
- Does the movie portray “real” Arab life?
- How to watch the movie with English subtitles
- I can't watch Perfect Strangers on Netflix – what can I do?
The movie Perfect Strangers (2022) is based on a movie written by Italian writer and director Filippo Bologna. The film is listed in Guinness records as the most remade movie in the history of cinema. The plot of Netflix's Arabic version is more or less a blueprint of the Italian original.
The film tells the story of seven close friends, including three couples, who agree during a dinner party to leave their cell phones unlocked on the table so that they can all have unfettered access to everything on them.
All the events of the film take place in one location, namely the dining room of the house of one of the seven friends.
By reading incoming messages out loud, and placing all calls on speaker, the seven friends reveal secrets about their personalities and their day-to-day life, some of them shocking, even to their spouses.
The Arabic version is directed by Lebanese director Wissam Smayra (وسام سميرة) and stars Egyptian actress Mona Zaki (blue dress), Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar (on the right), and Lebanese actress Nadine Labaki (red blouse).
Mona Zaki (منى زكي) is very famous in Egypt and is married to Ahmed Helmy (أحمد حلمي) who is – like his wife – a superstar. So, it is no surprise that many Egyptians wanted to see this Arabic-language production on Netflix since the Egyptian star actress Mona Zaki plays a leading role.
Why is Perfect Strangers controversial?
- The secrets exposed range from infidelity to homosexuality.
- The actors use a frank and direct language.
- In the movie, Egyptian actress Mona Zaki appears in a scene taking off her panties (without her body being revealed). She puts it in her handbag.
- A Lebanese father agrees to his teenage daughter (18 years old) having sex with her boyfriend. He criticizes his wife's rejection.
- Another Lebanese character, who turns out to be gay to the surprise of his friends, is accepted by them against all odds. The gay character is portrayed in an affirmative light and wins the sympathy of some of his friends. This is something new.
In 2006, the movie “The Yacoubian Building” (عمارة يعقوبيان) was the first Egyptian film to break the taboo of homosexuality by featuring an openly gay character. That movie, however, may have never reached Egyptian cinemas if the gay person had not been beaten to death by his male lover at the end of the film. His murder was perhaps seen by the censors as a fitting punishment for his immoral deeds.
Reactions in the Arab World and Egypt
The movie was released on 17th January 2022 and since then, it has been debated a lot. What were the reactions?
- The extremely popular illegal streaming site EgyBest (موقع سرقة الأفلام الشهير إيجي بيست), where many Egyptians who cannot afford Netflix watch movies and series for free, had initially announced in a firm statement that this movie is “full of lies and insults” and therefore will not be shown on their site. However, some days later it was possible to stream the movie – here is the link. (Disclaimer: watching the movie on EgyBest may be illegal in your country).
- Since its release, Perfect Strangers has risen to the top of Netflix's viewing charts in the region and briefly rose to become the sixth most popular title on the platform in France.
- An online hate campaign has started against Mona Zaki. People are attacking her and her husband, questioning whether Mona had read the script before agreeing to take the role. On IMDB, it got a rating of 5.8 as per 30th of January. More than 3,400 people took part in the voting.
- The Egyptian lawmaker Mostafa Bakry (مصطفى بكري) has called for banning Netflix in Egypt, accusing the streaming service of intentionally destroying Egyptians' social and religious values. Bakri viewed the film as part of a wider campaign against Egyptian values. He claimed that Netflix has an agenda and mentioned that the Jordanian Netflix production AlRawabi School for Girls had discussed similar topics. Here is the interview on MBC Masr:
- Al-Azhar, one of the most influential institutions in Sunni Islam, said through Grand Mufti Ahmed al-Tayeb that this film is a “Western provocation” and a “neo-colonialist” attempt to defend the Western world under the “guise of human rights and freedoms.” But that attempt is doomed to fail, according to the Grand Mufti, since “these perverted ideas [on homosexuality] go against Allah's will.”
In December 2021, Al-Azhar warned in an official tweet against media content that “normalizes” homosexuality and condemned homosexuality as “obscene” and “reprehensible”.
- Al-Nour, Egypt's leading Salafist party with seven seats in the House of Representatives, said it would prepare new legislation to toughen penalties for those involved in promoting homosexuality.
Homosexuality is a taboo in the Arab world. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 97% in Jordan, 95% in Egypt, 94% in Tunisia, 93% in the Palestinian territories and 80% in Lebanon agreed that homosexuality should be rejected by society.
So, is Perfect Strangers banned in Egypt?
No, it isn't. The Egyptian Censorship Authority for Artistic Work announced that it would not ban the film because it is a Lebanese production.
As a streaming platform, Netflix didn't have to go through local censors and labeled the film with a 16-plus rating.
Does the movie portray “real” Arab life?
The debate about the film was not only conducted with the usual reflexes on Twitter. Many newspapers and media platforms discussed and criticized the film.
Hany Beshr (هاني بشر), a journalist, researcher and documentary-filmmaker, listed some parts of the plot which, according to him, are strange. His opinion piece was published on al-Jazeera:
Others said that movies about cheating were nothing new in Egypt but that the debate is different now and presented from a women's perspective. In 1985, for example, the movie عفوا ايها القانون (Excuse me, law) featured the topic of betrayal – but from a man's perspective:
The plot of عفوا ايها القانون: Hoda, a university professor, marries Dr. Ali, who suffers from a psychological complex due to his impotence. He is the only son of a wealthy man who pampers him a lot. Ali turns to a psychiatrist for treatment, and the doctor reveals to him that the knot goes back to childhood, when he witnessed his stepmother's betrayal.
Famous Meme: Omar Suleiman
In Egypt, a famous meme was trending: “Egypt is not ready for Netflix movies” showing a picture of Omar Suleiman (عمر سليمان).
During the Arab spring, Omar Suleiman, Long-time intelligence chief (رئيس للمخابرات العامة) and vice president of Egypt back then, expressed in an interview with CNN in English that “Egypt is not ready for democracy” (كلنا نؤمن بالديمقراطية, ولكن الشعب المصري مازال غير مؤهل للديمقراطية). Omar Suleiman died in 2012. The sentence “Egypt is not ready for…” has since become infamous.
How to watch the movie with English subtitles
For unknown reasons, the Arabic movie Perfect Strangers does not have English subtitles on Netflix (as per 30th of January in Germany).
The movie uses very colloquial Arabic expressions. Without a decent understanding of Arabic dialects, it is hard to follow without subtitles. There is a way to watch it with English subtitles.
It is very easy to get English subtitles or subtitles of any language on Netflix – thanks to open subtitles.
STEP 1: Install the Chrome extension Open Subtitles
STEP 2: Go to netflix.com and choose Perfect Strangers
If you are on netflix.com, search for the movie Perfect Strangers and choose it.
Now, look at your Chrome panel (where all the symbols of the extensions are). You should now see the extension OpenSubtitles. It has the letter “S” in red color.
Press on the “S” (the extension).
Remark: If you cannot see it, press on the symbol on the very end before your Google account picture (it looks like a part of a puzzle). “Pin” the extension OpenSubtitles – it should be on your panel now.
STEP 3: Register an account with opensubtitles.org
If you don't have an account with opensubtitles.com already, fill in your email and choose a password and press “register” – it is for FREE!
You will get an email with an activation link. You need to activate your account. Once you have done that, you can log in (which is needed).
STEP 4: Download the subtitles
Now search for “perfect strangers 2022”.
-> Choose the English file.
-> PRESS DOWNLOAD (STEP 3 in the extension). Save the file somewhere on your Desktop (doesn't matter where, just use your download folder).
-> PRESS ACTIVATE (STEP 4 in the extension).
Remark: If you cannot find the subtitles, you can download the English subtitles of Perfect Strangers (2022) HERE. (Press the right mouse button and then Save As).
STEP 5: That's it. You should see the English subtitles now.
You should now see the English subtitles.
Note: You may have to adjust the time (I didn't have to do that.)
REMARK: You can use the same method to add ARABIC subtitles to English shows.
I can't watch Perfect Strangers on Netflix – what can I do?
If you cannot access Perfect Strangers on Netflix, try this link first:
If this also doesn't work, change your language to ARABIC. Now you should be able to see it. However, your interface is in Arabic now.
If it doesn't work, you could try the Egyptian streaming platform EgyBest:
Disclaimer: Watching the movie on EgyBest may be illegal in your country. It is your responsibility.