Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose “A Separation” and “The Salesman” brilliantly laid bare the realities of family life in his native land, moves to Spain for this less successful portrait of domestic crisis. “Everybody Knows” deals with the same sort of problems the writer-director confronted in his Iranian films, but while probing, it doesn’t dig as deep as they did, nor does an amorphous suspense plot give it the narrative spine it needs to be fully compelling. Still, some powerful performances invest the slow-burning, not always convincing narrative with a degree of intensity that makes it worth seeing, despite a tendency to ramble.
The story is set in a small village where Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns to the family home from Argentina to attend the wedding of her sister Ana (Inma Cuesta) to handsome Joan (Roger Casamajor). Accompanying her are her children, wild teen Irene (Carla Campra) and owlish little son Diego (Iván Chavero), though her husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) has remained behind, reportedly for business reasons. She and the kids will stay in the house of her father Antonio (Ramón Barea), a former landowner fallen on bad days, forced to sell out because of his drinking and gambling. Laura’s older sister Mariana (Elvira Minguez) runs a small hotel on the square with her husband Fernando (Eduard Fernández), and their daughter Rocio (Sara Sálmano) helps keep up the place along with her husband Gabriel (Pace Pastor Gómez).
In the festivities that ensue, the family is joined by many of the locals, including Laura’s close childhood friend Paco (Javier Bardem) and young barber Luis (Jaime Lorente). Paco, who was the son of a servant on the family estate, bought it when Antonio’s fortunes failed, and has turned the land into a successful vineyard, which he runs with his wife Bea (Bárbara Lennie), who’s active in the local young person’s center. Gregarious Paco is as close to the family as anyone, though Bea is more distant. Meanwhile Irene falls in with his nephew Felipe (Sergio Castellanos), who allows her to drive his motorbike—much too fast.
Things fall apart at the wedding reception, when Irene is suddenly ill, goes up to her room to sleep, and promptly disappears; a ransom note soon follows. Laura is understandably distraught, and Paco takes charge of the search; the police can’t be called in because that would endanger the girl’s life. Instead they consult a friend of Fernando’s, a retired cop named Jorge (José Ángel Egidio), who suspects the abduction might be an inside job. The urgent need to raise the ransom brings recriminations about the circumstances under which Paco acquired Antonio’s land at what’s thought to have been less than its value, and the arrival of Laura’s husband reveals secrets about their marriage which make the situation even more fraught—though one of them, long thought buried, seems to have been at least suspected by everybody in town.
Farhadi eventually provides a solution to the kidnapping whodunit, although an attentive viewer will have guessed it long before despite the abundance of suspects, simply because of the furtive glances exchanged among a few of the characters. But the heart of his story lies in the relationships, especially the triangle formed by Laura, Paco and Alejandro; and while Cruz could be criticized for overplaying, both Bardem and Darin offer perceptive, engrossing portraits of men with very different motives and senses of responsibility. The rest of the cast do admirable work, with Fernández and Lennie standing out in support, though both Barea and little Chavero make memorable impressions.
Technically the film is fine, though the cinematography by Jose Luis Alcaine could have been a bit grittier and more subdued, and editor Haydeh Safiyari might have looked for opportunities to trim here and there; “Everybody Knows” runs well over two hours, and at times seems rather dilatory.
That’s mostly the result, however, of Farhadi’s writing, which takes the form of substantial dialogues and monologues which resist shortening, and his directorial approach, which even in scenes that seem to call for high energy, opts instead for a more measured, ruminative feel. The pacing doesn’t work quite as convincingly in this case as in his Iranian films.
Nonetheless Farhadi and his cast invest the combination of soap opera and thriller that he’s fashioned with sufficient dramatic bite to transcend its inherently formulaic narrative beats and somewhat laggard rhythms.