Laura, a Spanish woman living in Buenos Aires, returns to her hometown outside Madrid with her two children to attend her sister's wedding. However, the trip is upset by unexpected events that bring secrets out into the open. Stars Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
The Iranian director’s sojourn to Spanish wine country marks a change of scene if not of tack, with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem leading a starry clockwork family whodunnit.
The gears of a church clock tick creakingly towards the moment the bells will ring, in anticipation of a village wedding. With the first clang, birds explode in a flurry, many escaping through a hole in the window, except for one too-fat pigeon.
These opening shots of Asghar Farhadi’s Spanish wine-country whodunit Everybody Knows offer the gift of metaphor not only for what will happen to one character (an enigmatic spoiler, that) but also for the director’s approach to cinema. This far in his career, Farhadi has been all about the script that strives to be structured like a well-oiled timepiece, with every beat slotting into place until the clamour of major incident reverberates loudly. It worked sublimely with his near-perfect Iranian family court drama A Separation; for me it has worked less brilliantly since.
Here the wedding of her sister brings Laura (Penélope Cruz) and her children in from Argentina. There’s much intercutting between preparations involving Laura’s family as well as local vineyard owner Paco (Javier Bardem) and his wife Bea (Bárbara Lennie), and a deal of relentless cutesiness and cliché. Much focus is placed on Laura’s daughter Irene (Carla Campra), a whooping, fearless wild child seemingly up for anything until, in the midst of the celebrations, she flakes out and is put to bed and we find she is asthmatic. There’s a power cut, which sees Paco arrange for a generator. Later that night Laura discovers that Irene is missing and soon she gets a phone message demanding a ransom for the kidnapped youth – but so too does Bea.
The incident triggers not only trauma in Laura but also a great unpicking of historical entanglements and local tensions around who has rights to the land. Laura’s husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) flies in from Buenos Aires only to rather weedily invoke God’s help. Paco is the more active helping hand, along with his well-connected friend Fernando (Eduard Fernández).
With a cast this starry and talented the play of revelation and counter-revelation that is reckoned to be Farhadi’s metier could hardly fail to entertain, even if the film rather shuns its environment and landscape in favour of somewhat stagey interiors. All the shades of agony from numbness to hysteria are portrayed – often with power, but at other times as if the performer could have used another take. This may be the usual problem of a director working in a second or third language.
Not that it matters when Everybody Knows fits the role of a festival opening film so well – one that’s unlikely to upset anyone. The performers all earn their red-carpet bow admirably. Purist fans of detective plots may find too many red herrings have been put out to dry in the Spanish sun, but as always with Farhadi – who has parlayed the missing girl theme before in About Elly – it’s not the crime that really matters, but what it reveals about everyone’s motives in their ordinary lives that counts. His favourite mechanism could use a bit more than fine-tuning next time though.
Nick James. Sight&Sound. 15th October 2018.
Extended families, class differences, children being crushed underfoot (mostly metaphorically), long-ago secrets that reluctantly float to the surface — on paper, Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben) has the classic ingredients of the best work of Asghar Farhadi, who won Oscars for his Iranian dramas A Separation and The Salesman and who earlier worked in a foreign language in The Past, with Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim.
But instead of another perceptive family drama that examines questions of morals and personal responsibility from different sides, his latest feature — and his first in Spanish — has a more overt genre touch, revolving around a kidnapping and a ransom sum that needs to be found in a place where most villagers turn out to have more grievances than money. The result is an odd, somewhat underwhelming hybrid that’s part talky thriller, part family drama, though the package of Farhadi plus stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem should nonetheless make this a fairly appealing proposition at art houses worldwide.
After years in Argentina, Laura (Cruz) has returned to Spain for the wedding of her younger sister, Ana (Inma Cuesta), to Joan (Roger Casamajor). She has traveled with her teenage daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), and her young son, Diego (Ivan Chavero), though the kids’ Argentinean father, Alejandro (Darin), has remained at home. They are staying at the large village abode of Laura’s aging father, the former landowner Antonio (Ramon Barea). Everyone is happy to see Laura and her brood again, including her siblings, in-laws and family friend Paco (Javier Bardem), a successful local vintner married to the conspicuously childless Bea (Barbara Lennie).
The first reels are sun-dappled and leisurely in a way none of Farhadi’s previous films have been. One could initially be forgiven for thinking this was the latest in a long line of pretty-but-not-very-deep commercial films from yesteryear, like Under the Tuscan Sun or A Walk in the Clouds, in which the gorgeous vistas had more depth than the story.
It takes about 20 minutes before the first significant piece of information from the past surfaces, while the wedding mass is celebrated. Paco’s nephew Felipe (Sergio Castellanos) has escaped to the church’s bell chamber with Irene. In the room’s exquisite ochre light, he reveals to her that Laura and Paco used to be childhood sweethearts. Later that evening, a family member goes missing and it becomes clear that a crime has been committed when text messages start to arrive. This is when the wedding party — up until then in full swing despite a power outage (later thought to be intentional) and a torrential downpour (probably still natural) — comes to a screeching halt.
To what extent the past influences the behavior and decision-making processes of people in the present has been a recurring theme in Farhadi’s work. He’s been especially interested in how links to often-unsuspected antecedents can make people’s conduct seem illogical or irrational to others and how this, in turn, means that most people seem unpredictable. Using secrets that are carefully unraveled as a structural device has another advantage as well, as it allows the filmmaker to give his potentially sprawling family dramas a razor-sharp focus and a sense of mounting tension and unease that turn matters of morality and civility into the material of a thriller.
Everybody Knows does have a few big secrets up its sleeve but, unfortunately, they never produce
the same effect as in Farhadi’s previous works. This is firstly because the biggest revelation can be seen coming from miles away, robbing the proceedings of tension and of its potential to turn family history into a thriller. The actual abduction plot in the present — with all its suspects and red herrings — and the mysteries in the past are also not sufficiently tied together, so the narrative keeps hobbling from one plot strand to the other without ever really becoming a gripping maelstrom of revelations as things get progressively worse for the characters.
If the film remains largely watchable it is because Farhadi has cast some of the finest actors in Spain and they know how to breathe life into their characters even when they don’t have all that much to do (though a few of them have quite a lot to say). Bardem and especially Cruz impress in roles specifically written for them; their chemistry, but also their melancholy about what might have been, is palpable, while their worries over the fate of the kidnappee further complicate their emotions.
That said, there is not a false note in the entire cast, which is so large it is hard to keep track of everyone and their possible motives, especially when Alejandro also shows up from Argentina and a retired police officer (Jose Angel Egido) starts asking everyone uncomfortable questions. The perpetrators’ identities and motivation, when they are revealed, are barely explored, leaving the resolution feeling somewhat arbitrary and again robbing the film of a potential source of tension. More room is given to discussions of issues such as class, property and money — things that can be divisive in any family but here feel a tad superficial and repetitive. If everybody knew, as the title suggests, why isn't that turned into a source of tension, a la Chronicle of a Death Foretold?
The pic's production design and costumes, while admittedly gorgeous, manage to just barely stay on the right side of Spanish-countryside clichés. The same can’t be said of the cinematography by Almodovar regular Jose Luis Alcaine, which is much glossier than the more modest realism that cinematographers Hossein Jafarian and Mahmoud Kalari have brought to Farhadi’s work in the past. Here, everything’s beautifully captured in a Conde Nast Traveler-kind of way, which works fine in Almodovar’s heightened melodramas but feels like an odd fit for Farhadi’s earthier and more sober storytelling sensibilities.
BOYD VAN HOEIJ, The Hollywood Reporter, 8th May 2018.
Total Number of Responses: 67
Film Score (0-5): 4.21
131 members and guests attended this screening with 67 providing a response. This is a 51% response rate…much appreciated - keep it up.
As can be seen from the scores the majority of you found the film “Mesmerising from the get go” and “the opening third was a feast for the eyes with the beautiful locations, colourful people, gorgeous costumes and wonderful wedding celebrations. And then whoosh! We were in a totally other place. A fantastic change of pace and as the gripping, tense storyline unfolded, the relationships started to unravel. The ending was brutal with Laura and her husband just departing the scene as quickly as they could leaving Paco (and his daughter) traumatised. Lots to think about”.
But one or two of you said it was “too long, (a common feature in foreign language films) and needed serious cutting. However, I enjoyed it despite finding the ending confusing i.e. I was unable to work out the family relationship of the girl whose husband kidnapped Irene! Duh!!”
Several of you found the film “confusing but excellently acted. Very engrossing. I think we worked it out in the end” and “Having tried reading around to find out what was going at the end of the film, I have concluded that it was too clever for me. I read that the characters were delineated by a few details each in cleverly constructed shots, but I missed some of that and was left to the end being fuzzy as to who was who amongst the women. The meant that the impact of the dramatic night meeting was totally lost and I still haven’t worked out whether what I thought was happening was what was actually happening. And unlike some films (Wings of Desire for example), I feel no enthusiasm to watch it all over again to unravel the story. Sounds like for once I’m not necessarily swimming against the tide”.
The really positive views were as follows: “An enjoyable "good old fashioned" thriller with added interest from the Spanish flavour. Ratcheted up the suspense and some good twists along the way. Consistently persuasive acting from the whole cast too I thought”. “I want to watch it again!!! It was wonderful”. “Brilliant photography – gripping drama –complicated plot”. “You can’t trust, even your family”. “What an experience! And it could never come over like that on TV – Cinema wins for involvement every time”. “A long film but did not see time pass. Totally engrossed”.
“Best film I’ve seen in this society since joining! Utterly spine tingling absorbing”. “Enjoyable thriller”. “Interesting story – good ending”. “I could not take my eyes off the screen. Excellent photography, gripping”. “Gripping and absorbing – it held the tension and agony right to the end. Terrific acting”. “Deserves all the credit it has been given”. “A clever story, superbly acted and a web of interconnecting human relationships perfectly portrayed”. “Superbly acted. A film that kept you in suspense until the end. Wonderful scenery and a great wedding”.
“My father always told me 'land - it's the only thing they're not making more of'. But then is he really my father?? Great performances, gorgeous visuals, interesting story, but ruined by telling us who was behind the unexpected event, and probably about 20 minutes too long”.
“This film starts so well; lush cinematography and ensemble playing of real brio, an affectionate portrait of an extended family gathered for enthusiastic celebration. There is a sense in the layered conversation and febrile editing of a tension though, of a gallop to disaster. When it comes it is a surprising deus ex machina. From there the film seems to lose its way, turning into a Sunday afternoon TV thriller with a series of rather plodding scenes of wordy exposition. Cruz resorts to hair tearing and general hysteria, Bardem to apparent puzzlement and looks like he'd rather be somewhere else. The cracks in the family facade appear, entirely predictably to anyone versed in such material. In this respect the film resembles 'Wajib' which did the same thing much better. It's a shame it rather dribbles away as it looks wonderful, the colours and vigour of the filming redolent of 'The Godfather'; has a car speeding through the night, lights blazing ever looked so rich? Start; excellent, finish; poor”.
“Cleverly developed story! Tense and atmospheric. Exposing the secrets and unspoken tensions within a small village of related families. Overly dramatic but entertaining”. “Contrived and unconvincing”. “Started well, but somehow didn’t click. Could have been a TV who done it”. “Ultimately disappointing”. “Too slow”. “A bit “East Ender” ish!” “Very good film – I liked the fact that the family secret played out, only to create a new one!” “Fast moving and very believable”. “Quite good “whodunit” but had trouble distinguishing between the women who all looked the same!!!”
“Quite interesting reflecting on the dynamics of the various relationships. Well filmed but a bit long”. “Excellent acting. Very emotional. Very enjoyable”. “Film too long! Beautifully filmed but I didn’t care much for the characters!” “Great whodunit and family drama – loved it”. “I found it almost impossible to work out who was who. A wasted evening as far as I was concerned”.