Starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem. In Spanish, English, and Catalan, with English subtitles. Rated PG
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is known for making films that look and feel like whodunits, but are in disguise.
Instead, they end up investigating family and class relationships more than the mystery itself.
The appeal of movies like the Tehran-set A Separation and The Salesman was that he refused to solve the central puzzle with a tidy ending, subverting the thriller genre.
With Everybody Knows, the visionary filmmaker moves the action to an atmospheric old town north of Madrid, Spain.
And what strikes you first is the way he creates an intimate sense of space as comfortably as he does in his home country.
Just as you got to know every corner of a family’s rented apartment in The Salesman, you will become intimately familiar with the dilapidated belltower, the small, old inn, and the main cobblestone plaza here.
Spaces are hugely important to Farhadi; like secrets, they can separate people and bring them together.
Laura (Penélope Cruz) has come back to her hometown from Argentina with her two children; her younger sister is planning a big, loud wedding in the village square.
Staying in her sibling’s cozy hotel, Laura reunites with her colourful extended clan, as well as with a former lover, Paco (her real-life husband, Javier Bardem), who runs a local winery.
Cue endless cheek-kissing.
The night of the wedding starts out blissfully, but after a thunderstorm one of Laura’s children goes missing, setting off a frantic scramble to find her—and pitting friends and family members against each other.
As usual in Farhadi’s films, the central trauma exposes all the rifts between people, mostly to do with wealth and status.
In this territory, Farhadi excels, carefully excavating the characters and their complex pasts: the estate owner who may have paid too little to Laura’s father for the land; the brother labouring to make a living from his hotel business; the family members who resent Laura for escaping to greener pastures in Argentina.
Amid all this, Cruz and Bardem are at their energetic best, the latter portraying a free spirit who, at one point, breaks into dance in a pelting rainstorm.
The director’s helped by José Luis Alcaine’s voluptuous cinematography, which celebrates every cracked plastered wall, every vine-entwined gold-brick courtyard.
It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to get online and book the next flight to Spain.
But as Farhadi heeds the urge to wrap up the plot he’s so intricately laid out, the film turns trite—even soap-opera melodramatic.
Cruz spends a lot of time crying, and a retired police officer begins to put together the pieces of the disappearance.
Instead of upending conventions, Farhadi succumbs to them.
It’s a testament to his skill that Everybody Knows still manages to be absorbing—and would be even more so without a tight resolution.