With films including A Separation, The Salesman and About Elly, revered Oscar Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi can surely at this stage of his prestigious career do no wrong. In 2013 his French, Persian and Italian language film The Past, Farhadi demonstrated his flair for cross-cultural storytelling, brought even more so to the fore with Everybody Knows, his Spanish-language thriller about a family mired with secrets and grudges that explodes after a kidnapping at a family wedding.
Starring international superstars Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in central roles, Everybody Knows by usual standards is perfectly satisfying, high-tension fare and ticks all the boxes one would usually require to grant a taut psychological puzzle governed by interpersonal politics a big fat tick. The performances are earnest but never pompous, the narrative weaves shrewdly through its revelations and occlusions without feeling tricky-for-tricky’s sake, and the film stylistically shares the similar downplayed yet masterful artistry that have made Farhadi one of the world’s most important contemporary filmmakers.
The film follows Cruz’s Laura who travels from Argentina to Spain to celebrate her sister’s nuptials with her two children, her spirited teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and the younger brother Diego (Iván Chavero). Absent from proceedings is Laura’s husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darín), who finally makes his way to join the family after Irene is shockingly abducted after the wedding as the distracted family celebrates. With the support of her childhood love Paco (Bardem) who now owns the vineyard once part of Laura’s family estate, tensions escalate as the outsiders assumed responsible for Irene’s disappearance might in fact not be strangers at all, the guilty parties much closer to home.
While the significance of the title is spelled out explicitly in relation to one of the many secrets to come to the surface that for much of the family was always hidden in plain sight, there is however another way to interpret the phrase: it’s certainly common knowledge that
Asghar Farhadi is an extraordinary filmmaker, and yet everybody knows that we’ve been here before. While not exactly going through the motions, in relation to 2016’s The Salesman alone – which won the director the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and for
which he famously chose not to attend the ceremony in protest the US government’s so-called “Muslim ban” – Everybody Knows seems far too familiar in its tale of a family pushed to extremes, where an act of violence reveals the truths about who people really are. For any other filmmaker this film would unarguably be a great accomplishment, but for someone of Farhadi’s caliber, everybody knows he’s capable of much, much more.