By Karen Gordon
Iranian writer/director and multiple Oscar winner (2012’s A Separation, 2017’s The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi makes compelling, meticulously crafted movies about people, unravelling under some kind of outwardly imposed pressure.
And his latest, the woefully underrated Everybody Knows, is another richly drawn, rewarding movie.
Penélope Cruz stars as Laura. She’s returning to the small Spanish village where she grew up, for her sister’s wedding, with her two kids: her free spirited teenaged daughter Irene, (Carla Campra) and her young son Diego (Iván Chavero). Her husband, Alejandro has stayed behind in Buenos Aires for business reasons.
The reunion is joyful as family members and old friends arrive all seemingly at the same time.
They liven up the plaza in the small village wth their joyful greetings and catching up over coffees and glasses of wine.
Irene meets Paco’s nephew, who is taken by her vivaciousness. They hang out together, and he tells her that Laura and Paco not only grew up together, but were in love, something, he says, that ‘everybody knows’.
The wedding reception is loud and fun, and in full swing in the courtyard of their house, when the electricity suddenly goes out.
When Laura goes to check on her children, she discovers that Irene is missing and there’s evidence that someone has taken her. Soon the kidnappers make contact asking for a large ransom, and very convincingly say that they’ll kill the girl if the ransom isn’t paid, or if the family contacts the police.
There are lots of things that everybody thinks they know in this small village, but perceptions don’t match reality. Laura’s family was a leading one in the community, but no one has the kind of money that the kidnappers want.
Laura is distraught, and fighting to hold it together. The family gathers to brainstorm a solution. Paco, with his strong ties to the family, and Bea join them.
But under pressure, things start to unravel. Old resentments resurface, truths and half-truths long accepted as truth. And yet the family doesn’t run, but rather sticks closer together. Paco turns to a friend, a retired police detective to advise them, and his experience leads him to ask clear-eyed questions. But by doing that, he raises more uncomfortable questions.
One of Farhadi’s great strengths is his ability to write clear characters with complex inner lives that inform their reactions. Not everything is expressed overtly, but as the film goes on, you can see how those histories and connections, slights real and perceived, and failures and secrets, sit just under the skin.
Farhadi doesn’t rush the film, but lets us watch as the characters, listen and process what’s coming at them. And that’s particularly true for Paco, who is emotionally the most tuned to Laura, and perhaps feels the most responsible to her.
Another of Farhadi’s other great strengths is his propensity to put his characters through an emotional wringer, without even a whiff of cheap melodrama.
Farhadi is aided in his mission by a superb cast of Spanish and Argentinian actors. But the at the heart of the film is the work of Cruz and Bardem, who turn in stellar performances. Cruz, in particular, gives a powerful performance of a mother who will do whatever it takes fight for her child.
Everybody Knowsis a richly rewarding film that gets better on repeated viewings.
Everybody Knows. Directed by Asghar Farhardi. Starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Opens in Toronto, February 15.