Acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi returns to Europe for his second foreign language excursion after The Past. While that was a taut French-set drama, Everybody Knows is a more languid experience. Once again, as so often with Farhadi’s work, family is at the heart of his story. Set in rural Spain, the film is centred on the wedding of two youngsters, Ana (Inma Cuesta) and Joan (Roger Casamajor). Returning for the nuptials is Ana’s older sister Laura (Penélope Cruz), back from Argentina with her two children, although her husband (Ricardo Darín) remains back home.
Also intrigued by Laura’s return is Paco (Javier Bardem), a wealthy vintner now married; as we soon discover, he and Laura were childhood sweethearts. But as the ominously tolling bell at the beginning of the film hints, this is unlike to be a happy reunion. Farhadi, who switches gears from his Oscar-winning Iranian films A Separation and The Salesman, soon moves the story into genre territory, as it becomes clear that a family member has gone missing. Text messages soon clarify that this is a kidnap, bringing the wedding party to a grinding halt.
This being a Farhadi film, you shouldn’t expect flashing blue lights and police tape, although a retired police officer (José Ángel Edigo) does arrive to start asking awkward questions. Rather, it’s a family drama about secrets and lies and the nature of human motivations, however perverse. Bardem and Cruz generate the chemistry you might expect for a married couple of actors who have worked together, on and off, since the very beginnings of their careers. The Argentinean Darín, as ever, is also a pleasure to see when he finally arrives on screen.
While Farhadi synchs into the Spanish rhythms, culture and language, seemingly effortlessly, there is something about Everybody Knows that isn’t quite as acutely realised as his Iranian efforts. The plot rumbles on, never quite ratcheting up the tension as perhaps it should. The cinematography of the sun-kissed rural vistas in Spain might be beautifully captured by José Luis Alcaine, a frequent collaborator of Pedro Almodóvar, but it borders close to glossy travelogue. Maybe the Spanish tourist board will be happy – aside from the kidnap threat, obviously – but Farhadi fans may be nonplussed.
Everybody Knows opens on 8 March. Find out more here.