Everybody Knows (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): An engaging letdown by Asghar Farhadi

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The opening scene of Asghar Farhadi’s new film “Everybody Knows”, which opened the Cannes Film Festival early in last year, summarizes well what I felt during my viewing. In the inner space of a church clock tower, the camera looks at the working parts of the clock, and it phlegmatically observes how these small and big parts mechanistically work together second by second. During the rest of the film, I was constantly aware of its clockwork plot mechanism at its every narrative turn, and I only observed it with mild interest without much emotional involvement in its story and characters.

In the beginning, everything seems fine as Laura (Penélope Cruz) and her two children are coming to her rural hometown in Spain for the upcoming family wedding. As soon as they arrive in her hometown, they are greeted by Laura’s parents and several other family members, and it looks like she and her children will have a good time there although her Argentine husband (Ricardo Darín) could not come from Argentina along with them for some reason.

Not long after her arrival, Laura comes across Paco (Javier Bardem), a local guy who was once very close to her in the past. He is currently running a vineyard located on a piece of land he bought from her and her family several years ago, and he is also happily married to his wife Bea (Bárbara Lennie), but it looks like there are still some unresolved feelings left between Laura and Paco, as reflected by one brief scene which shows us a small remnant of their past inside that aforementioned church clock tower.

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Anyway, the wedding ceremony soon begins, and Paco, Laura, and many other people attend the ceremony as expected. Although there are a few problems during the ceremony, things mostly go as well as planned, and the bride and the groom as well as their wedding guests come to be swept into the excitement of the following evening banquet held at Laura’s family house.

And then something happens around the end of the evening banquet. Not long after going up to her room early due to her fatigue probably caused by jet lag, Laura’s teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is disappeared, and Laura soon gets a message from someone who seems to kidnap her daughter. In addition to being warned not to go to the police, she is demanded to pay a considerable amount of cash as her daughter’s ransom, but, alas, neither she nor her husband does not have much money due to his very difficult economic circumstance.

After discussing with Paco and her family members, Laura decides not to call the police, and Paco turns out to be quite willing to do anything for her. While looking for any possible clue to Irene’s kidnapping, he also tries to get enough ransom money, and his wife is not so pleased to see this as beginning to wonder whether her husband is still attached to Laura as before.

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If you have seen Farhadi’s previous works such as “A Separation” (2011) and “The Past” (2013), you will not be so surprised to see how the circumstance of the main characters in the film gets more complicated as his screenplay gradually reveals more of what has been below the surface. It becomes quite apparent that Laura’s family members still hold some grudge against Paco, and the mood surely becomes more awkward as he gets more involved in their situation after Laura reveals to him a certain ‘secret’ which, as the title of the movie already suggests, nearly everybody in the town knows. When Laura’s husband belatedly arrives later in the story, he is a bit too calm about the circumstance, but then he finds himself struggling with it a lot just like others, and there is an expected but poignant scene when he reveals to Paco what he has kept to himself for years.

It is a shame that the mystery of the story is resolved too easily, but the movie still engaged me. Although I was a bit dissatisfied with its anti-climactic ending and several unanswered questions, I enjoyed its nice individual moments generated among its good main cast members, who are all solid under Farhadi’s competent direction. While Penélope Cruz has a number of showy moments as her character becomes more desperate hour by hour, Javier Bardem, who already appeared along with Cruz in several films including “Jamón Jamón” (1992) and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008), and Ricardo Darín, who drew my attention for the first time via his haunting performance in Oscar-winning Argentine film “The Secret in Their Eyes” (2009), are well-cast in their respective roles, and the other substantial performers in the film including Bárbara Lennie and Carla Campra also give fine acting to be watched although their supporting characters are relatively underdeveloped in comparison.

Overall, “Everybody Knows” is one or two steps down from what Farhadi has achieved during this decade. I remember how much I was emotionally involved in the very messy and complicated human matters depicted in his great film “A Separation” – or how much I was impressed to see him successfully moving onto a foreign territory in “The Past”. In case of “The Salesman” (2016), which brought him another Best Foreign Language Film Oscar after “A Separation”, it is less impressive in its more straightforward approach, but it has a fair share of powerful moments nonetheless, and it was one of the better films I watched during 2017. I think “Everybody Knows” will be regarded as a minor work in his respectable filmmaking career, but it is mostly engaging at least, and I hope that he will soon move onto better things.

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