Madrid looks beautiful in the Spanish-language drama Everybody Knows. Centuries-old, honey-colored stone buildings perch on ancient cobbled streets; private walled courtyards are shaded by leafy trees strung with dozens of lights; interiors are warm and rustic, painted in pale shades of terra cotta and celery. The vast, open fields outside of town are planted with juicy wine grapes. The movie is an immersive timeout in a warm climate that we could all use about now.
Maybe it’s the outsider’s perspective brought to the production by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi that makes the movie so visually appealing, a sense of wonder as the layers of beauty in the locale keep unfolding. But the layers of plot within Everybody Knows so essential to the mystery—suspense, revelations, complex family histories—don’t always unfold quite as smoothly.
The nuance of family dynamics is sort of a specialty of Farhadi, as seen in his two previous Foreign Language Oscar-winning Iranian films, A Separation and The Salesman. Family secrets and hidden agendas abound in Everybody Knows, and while Fahardi handles them with his usual sensitivity, the movie never quite achieves the emotional epiphany we hope for. Stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem (even more expansive and full of gusto than usual) are worth watching in every frame they’re in, and the ensemble cast is excellent. But when all is finally revealed, there’s just not as much there, there as we might wish.
Directing from his own original script, Fahardi crafts a mystery-suspense drama that begins with a lighthearted family reunion in Madrid. Laura (Cruz), returning to her childhood home from Buenos Aires, where she has relocated with her Argentinean husband, arrives with her teenage daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), and young son. Laura’s niece is getting married, and the old family compound—presided over by Laura’s cranky, elderly father and her sister and brother-in-law—is a hive of activity.
Among the friends, relations, neighbors, cleaning crews, and delivery people traipsing in and out of the place, Laura happily reunites with childhood friend Paco (Bardem), a genial winemaker who owns the vineyard a little way down the road, now married to the more reserved Bea (Bárbara Lennie). The wedding is a great success, as is the celebration that goes on all night in the family courtyard, despite a few cases of over-indulgence (Laura has to put Irene to bed upstairs) and a temporary power outage.
But the festivities come to an abrupt end when Laura discovers Irene is missing. Ransom notes via text soon follow, along with a dire warning not to involve the police, and the movie veers into suspense, with characters desperately trying to figure out how the girl was taken, by whom, and how best to get her safely back. When Laura’s husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) arrives, the stage is set for dark revelations and suppressed animosities and resentments to surface as the family sifts through its collective history, searching for clues.
Fahardi handles the suspense element pretty well, finding subtle ways to imply that anyone within the family circle or its intimates might plausibly be in on the plot. But the wrap-up is more straightforward and less intriguing than we’ve been led to expect.
And there are complications along the way. After the family decides not to involve the police, a character pops up to provide them with detailed procedural instruction on dealing with the abductor, but we’re given no explanation of who he is. And with so many supporting characters drifting in and out of the household and the storyline, Fahardi doesn’t do enough to differentiate between them. It’s often hard to keep track of who’s who and what their relationships are to each other.
Still, it’s interesting to see how Fahardi’s grasp of intricate human interaction translates to a more open, expressive culture. Everybody Knows teems with life lived in the moment, even if the destination is less compelling than the journey.
EVERYBODY KNOWS (TODOS LO SABEN)
With Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. A Focus Features release. Rated R. 133 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles.