Everybody Knows

 

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This latest piece from an admired director is both characteristic and surprising.

 
Everybody Knows

Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Eduard Fernández

 

Unexpectedly this new film from Asghar Farhadi emerges merely as a conventional whodunit, albeit that here the 'it' that is done is not a murder but a kidnapping. The real surprise stems from the fact that 'merely' is the key word here, for mysteries and hidden facts have often featured in the stories that Farhadi as a writer/director has chosen to tell. But previously these elements have been utilised in pursuit of social comment or significant investigation of character. Thus, his finest film - 2000's About Elly - told of a girl who goes missing yet did so in a way that was enormously revealing about the position of women in Iran, while The Past (2013) saw Farhadi filming a story in Paris that dealt in satisfyingly complex relationships against a convincing backdrop of French social attitudes. 

 

Everybody Knows takes Farhadi to a fresh setting - Madrid - but it at once feels like a characteristic work and, indeed, Farhadi is now again filming with his regular editor Hayedeh Safiyari. We see Laura (Penélope Cruz) arriving from Buenos Aires with her teenage daughter, Irene (Carla Campra) and her young son (Iván Chivero). Leaving behind her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin), Laura has come back to Spain for the marriage of her sister, Ana (Inma Cuesta). All of this is presented stylishly - this time Farhadi's photographer is the admirable José Luis Alcaine - but, if that is a mark of Farhadi's quality, also typical of his work is the rather confusing maze of family members and friends to whom we are introduced. But there's no lack of clarity when Laura meets again her former lover, Paco (Javier Bardem). Once a servant he is now a landowner and he too has married, his wife being Bea (Bárbara Lennie).

 

It is just after the wedding celebration that Irene disappears and soon, in an echo of a past local kidnapping, a ransom is demanded with a threat that the kidnap victim will die if the police are informed. As we await the outcome of this, we realise more and more that past history is crucial to the motivation involved (one even senses a certain parallel with the kind of land rivalries featured in famed French tales by Marcel Pagnol). Yet, if the people initially seem more real than standard figures created for a mystery tale that requires countless suspects, as the narrative proceeds and rather predictable plot twists emerge the story being told hardly resonates beyond the level of the whodunit. That makes Everybody Knows a minor work for Farhadi, but with this able cast to handle it that would still be fine on its own level but for the film's length. To work well most whodunits need to be relatively compact and the more drawn out this piece becomes the more one is aware that the material lacks any extra weight. There's still quite a lot to enjoy, but Everybody Knows is not a memorable film.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernández, Inma Cuesta, Carla Campra, Bárbara Lennie, Sara Sálamo, Ramón Barea, Elvira Mínguez, Iván Chivero.

 

Dir Asghar Farhadi, Pro Álvaro Longoria and Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Screenplay Asghar Farhadi, Ph José Luis Alcaine, Pro Des María Clara Notari, Ed Hayedeh Safiyari, Music Javier Limón, Costumes Sonia Grande.

 

Memento Films Production/Morena Films/Lucky Red/France 3 Cinéma/RAI Cinema-Universal Pictures.
133 mins. Spain/France/Italy. 2018. Rel: 8 March 2019. Cert. 15.