KVIFF 2018 Review: Farhadi's ‘Everybody Knows’ a Gripping Family Drama
Real-life husband and wife acting powerhouse Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem re-team for their second feature of 2018 (following the solid, if familiar, Pablo Escobar biopic Loving Pablo) in Everyone Knows, a gripping new family drama from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi that ventures further into conventional thriller territory than any of his previous films.
That might explain why Everybody Knows premiered to a somewhat chilly reception when it opened the Cannes film fest earlier this year, before hitting the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July. It’s also unlikely to satisfy mainstream audiences as it sets up a traditional thriller-movie narrative before almost entirely turning its focus onto elements of family drama.
But Everybody Knows is nevertheless a masterfully-directed feature that affirms Farhardi’s status as one of the finest filmmakers in contemporary world cinema. While it may not be as effective as The Salesman, The Past, or A Separation (one of the greatest films of the past decade), it’s still a taut and compelling experience thanks to Farhardi’s careful study of his characters along with some wonderful performances.
The director’s first feature entirely set outside of his native Iran, Everybody Knows takes place in a rural village in Spain, where Laura (Cruz) has returned from Buenos Aires to her hometown along with teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and a younger son to attend the wedding of her sister.
At a joyous celebration, we’re introduced to a sprawling landscape of family and friends that includes the bride Ana (Inma Cuesta) and groom Joan (Roger Casamajor), Laura’s elderly father (wonderfully played by Ramón Barea), her older sister Mariana (Elvira Mínguez) and husband Fernando (Eduard Fernandez), and their daughter Rocío (Sara Sálamo).
And then there’s longtime family friend Paco (Javier Bardem) and his partner Bea (Bárbara Lennie), who run the local vineyard. Laura was once in love with Paco but broke his heart when she left to Buenos Aires, for reasons that “everybody knows” but are left for the audience to infer.
But as the family and friends drunkenly stumble through the wedding festivities, Everybody Knows suddenly becomes a different movie with a startling transition that recalls The Deer Hunter as Laura discovers that her daughter has been kidnapped. The perpetrators have left newspaper clippings of an infamous local kidnapping case in which the mother called authorities, and her daughter was killed.
Laura and her family quickly decide that contacting the police is out of the question, but a friend and ex-cop (played by José Ángel Egido) tells them what the audience probably already knows: the kidnappers are most likely someone with ties to the family.
The shocking development also brings Laura’s husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) into town, who stirs up further controversy. Soon, despite the kidnapping that should be the focus here, all manner of skeletons are coming out of the closet.
Another filmmaker would turn Everybody Knows into a routine thriller as Laura and her extended family deal with the kidnappers, attempt to raise the ransom money, and maybe even try to figure out who is behind it so they can save Irene.
But Farhadi keenly forsakes many of the expected tropes to instead keep the focus on the family. In two scenes of characters studiously studying wedding video footage for any clues, family members slowly walk by the television with an ‘excuse me’ as the director amusingly underscores what he is truly shining the spotlight on.
Captivating throughout, taut and suspenseful in spite Farhadi’s reluctance to turn this into a thriller, Everybody Knows is a riveting drama bolstered by an outstanding cast: Cruz and Bardem are exceptional here, but the entire supporting cast, and especially Darín’s husband, helps make this an intense drama at every step of the way.
Still, it isn’t perfect. One particular scene - a climactic reveal involving the kidnappers - feels tonally out-of-place, something that belongs in a lesser movie and should have been left ambiguous here. It’s easy to see why the reaction to Everybody Knows has been split, but this is a compelling feature from one of our top directors that needs to be seen regardless.