EVERYBODY KNOWS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Stars: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Barbara Lennie, Ramon Barea, Inma Cuesta, Eduard Fernandez, Carla Campra, Jose Angel Egido, Ivan Chavero, Sergio Castellanos.

Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Sergio Castellanos, and Carla Campra in Todos lo saben (2018)

This is a deliberately paced slow burn psychological thriller and muddled melodrama about family secrets, simmering resentments and a kidnapping. It is the latest film from Asghar Farhadi, the two-time Oscar winning Iranian writer/director (The Separation, etc) who usually explores class differences, the fragile relationships between couples, divisive secrets, and the nature of society. With Everybody Knows, his second film to be shot outside his native Iran, he has transplanted his usual concerns to a Spanish setting and cast two of Spain’s best known and most popular actors in Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Farhadi initially wrote the script in his native Farsi language and then had it translated into Spanish, but something seems to have got lost in the translation as this film lacks the subtlety and emotional power of his recent work.

Laura (Cruz) returns to her hometown outside Madrid to attend the wedding of her younger sister. She is accompanied by her two children – teenaged daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and young son Diego (Ivan Chavero). Her husband Alejandro (prolific Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin) has remained behind to complete some important business. Laura reunites with an old flame in Paco (Bardem), who is now a successful wine grower. Paco is now married to Bea (Barbara Lennie, from The Skin I Live In, etc), a school teacher. But there is still a frisson of sexual tension and palpable attraction between Paco and Laura that many in the small town recognise.

Laura’s family though resents Paco because Laura had sold him a valuable parcel of land very cheaply and he has made a success of it. In a small town there are few secrets, and everybody knows everybody else’s business and personal history.

The wedding is quite lavish but there is also a sense of foreboding behind the scenes. But that night during a thunderstorm and power outage Irene goes missing. A ransom demand is delivered. Laura turns to Paco for help. But it seems that there are more sinister reasons behind the kidnapping, and that the truth may be closer to home than Laura realises. Laura’s family seem consumed by suspicion and guilt.

Alejandro arrives suddenly and unexpectedly from Argentina and Paco is instantly suspicious. A retired local detective (Jose Angel Egido, from For The Good Of Others, etc) also begins to investigate. And Laura’s family suspect that Paco may somehow be involved.

The sinuous and twisting plot soon becomes a little confusing and messy, and the ultimate resolution to the mystery is low key and a little disappointing. Farhadi’s slow direction, laidback pace and lack of tension, and an unnecessarily padded running time of over two hours may frustrate many.

Farhadi quickly establishes the mood of this small town and develops a sense of mounting dread. The film was shot in Torrelaguna, a small town outside of Madrid, by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, a regular collaborator with Pedro Almodovar, and he captures the sweeping vistas of rural Spain and the sundrenched countryside that give the sombre material a slick visual surface. The film has been edited by Farhadi’s regular collaborator Hayedeh Safiyari.

The casting of Bardem and Cruz, who are married in real life, works perfectly here as it creates some real tension for their on-screen relationship. This is their fifth film together. Bardem keeps his emotions in check, delivering a subtle and nuanced performance that conveys his hurt, confusion and sense of helplessness. He and Darin create a strong contrast with their respective characters. Cruz brings passion and intelligence to her performance. 

The intriguing but slightly disappointing Everybody Knows will not be remembered as one of Farhadi’s best films.

★★☆

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