Friday, March 15, 2019

Movie Review: Everybody Knows

Everybody Knows *** / *****
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi.
Written by: Asghar Farhadi.
Starring: Penélope Cruz (Laura), Javier Bardem (Paco), Ricardo Darín (Alejandro), Eduard Fernández (Fernando), Bárbara Lennie (Bea), Inma Cuesta (Ana), Elvira Mínguez (Mariana), Ramón Barea (Antonio), Carla Campra (Irene), Sara Sálamo (Rocío), Roger Casamajor (Joan), José Ángel Egido (Jorge), Sergio Castellanos (Felipe), Iván Chavero (Diego), Tomás del Estal (Andres), Imma Sancho (Clara), Paco Pastor Gómez (Gabriel).
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi works better in his native country than when he ventures outside of it. In films like About Elly, A Separation or The Salesman, Farhadi is able to combine the personal and the political of his home country in intricate, subtle ways. When he steps outside of Iran – like in The Past - set in France – which I really didn’t like at all, or his latest, Everybody Knows – set in Spain – I think some of the specificity of what he does best is lost. Everybody Knows has a few other problems as well – it is, in some ways, very similar to Farhadi’s About Elly, in that it centers on a character’s disappearance, but this time the fascinating mystery at About Elly’s core in missing. Also, Farhadi teases a lot of interesting, bold solutions to the mystery – but ends up going with none of them, and instead basically comes up with a solution out of left field. And yet, there are parts of Everybody Knows that are so strong – the cinematography, the two central performances for example – that even if Everybody Knows is undeniably minor Farhadi – it’s still well worth seeing.
The film is set in Spain, and revolves around Laura (Penelope Cruz) returning to her hometown from Argentina to attend the wedding of her sister. She has brought along her two kids – including teenager Irene (Carla Campra) – but her successful husband Alejandro had to stay behind for work. Farhadi lets the opening scenes – through the wedding – play out at length (well more than 30 minutes), as we get to know the different characters – including Paco (Javier Bardem), who was Laura’s longtime love before she left Spain, and his new wife Bea (Barbara Lennie). Paco was the son of servant’s who worked for Laura’s family – but over the years, the tables have turned a little bit. Laura’s family has fallen on some hard times, while Paco now runs a winery on his estate outside of town. There is an unspoken tension there – sexual between Laura and Paco, and some built up resentment between her family and him, but for the wedding, everyone just pretends to get along. All that changes however when at the wedding, Irene gets drunk – and goes to lie down. When Laura goes to check on her, she is missing. Soon text messages from the kidnappers start arriving – and family secrets and tensions start to come out.
I won’t really say much more about the plot of Everybody Knows – although, I do think it’s clear that Farhadi isn’t as interested in the narrative as what it does to the various characters. Given that though, it is a little odd that he throws in so many misdirection’s throughout the film about who may be responsible. By doling out a little information at a time – and keeping Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) off-screen so long, he becomes a prime suspect. But then everyone becomes a suspect at some point. But like with About Elly, he doesn’t seem very interested in actually solving the mystery – but rather the mess the mystery leaves behind. The difference here is that the danger Elly was in in that film was at least partly theoretical – no one knew what happened to her – and the people she left behind barely knew her. It changes the calculations in many ways when the danger is very real, and the people left behind are her family. There’s a few moments when Farhadi seems to want to push the film is some harsh ways – like when Bea starts to confront Laura’s family at one point – but eventually pulls back.
The best parts of the movie are probably the lead performances by Cruz and Bardem. Of course, the real life couple has undeniable chemistry, and it’s an interesting thing to have them be ex’s here – but ex’s who still have a bond with each other. Cruz becomes more and more of a wreck throughout the course of the movie – looking very much like the worried mother who hasn’t slept or stopped crying for days on end. Bardem has to be vulnerable here in surprising ways – his world is turned upside down, but he feels he cannot talk about it with anyone. As in the best Farhadi movies, everything here exists in shades of grey – without good guys or bad guys, but with characters we like doing undeniably cruel things (often in the past) that haunts them. Their secrets are what ultimately come to the surface and threaten to destroy things. In Everybody Knows those secrets do come spilling out – and Farhadi refuses to wrap them up in a neat package. By the end of the movie, it’s not clear where anyone goes from here. It’s also clear that while some family secrets are not so secret anymore, new ones have been created.
I think Everybody Knows is mainly a good melodrama from Farhadi – it is satisfying, and well-acted, and looks absolutely gorgeous. And yet, what’s missing from it is what makes the best Farhadi films great – a larger sense of the community and culture the story takes place in. Here, it takes place in Spain, but the film lacks that cultural specificity that often makes his films great. It seems like he wanted to work with Bardem and Cruz – a worthy desire – and tried to tell a more broadly universal story. It works – but his best films work because that they are not broadly universal - they are specific to their time and place.

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