Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is a double Oscar-winner with A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016). Working in Spanish for the first time with his latest movie Everybody Knows, he explores once again the disruptive force of resentments and buried memories.
Starring Penelope Cruz, Javier Badem and Ricardo Darín, the movie takes us to the heart of a family estate outside Madrid, as members gather for the wedding celebration of Laura (Inma Custea). The bride’s sister, Paula (Cruz), has come from Argentina to attend the event. Leaving her husband Alejandro (Darín) at home, she is accompanied by her teen daughter Irene (Carla Campra ) and young son (Ivan Chavero). Paco (Bardem), a local winemaker, is there also. He is now married to Bea (Barbara Lennie), but – and this is a secret that everybody knows – he was romantically involved with Laura long ago.
From the joyful reunion of the family and rowdy celebration, the plot shifts to the deterioration of familial links, as emotional tension is heightened with the vanishing of teen Irene during a power cut and thunderstorm. From then on, the film turns into a whodunit mystery, and alongside the revelation of long-kept resentments, everybody in turn becomes a suspect, including the young girl’s father Alejandro, who appears unexpectedly in the middle of the story.
Probably targeted at mainstream audiences this time, Everybody Knows’ plot plays with the viewer’s expectations and their mistaken assumptions (just like in an Agatha Christie mystery). We follow the turns and twists through the many characters, all holding grudges and suspicion against one another and particularly against Paco, who bought the land from Paula for a cheap price long ago and has turned it into a very profitable winery. A retired cop (Jose Angel Egido) is even brought to twist the plot further.
Unfortunately, the story is clumsy and comes with no real surprises. Suspense is contrived; while several clues are obvious, paradoxically the movie never provides any useful puzzle pieces in the over-plotted narration. Instead, it gives scenes that just drop short, as for instance when the family watches the wedding video for clues without making anything out of it. With flimsy and unconvincing revelations, the plot collapses. Finally, the resolution of Irene’s disappearance seems to come out of the blue, and the viewer has been led in twists for almost nothing. The tension of performances do not disguise the faked nature of the narration, and it ultimately appears closer to a telenovela melodrama wrapped up into a thriller. It wants to be devastating. It does not function, to our great frustration. Hopefully, Asghar Farhadi’s future projects will reverse this disappointment.