There is no one who can do family drama the way Asghar Farhadi does. No one. Watching storylines unfold, characters discover untold secrets and figure things out before dealing with the impact is always portrayed so organically. That’s why it’s no surprise that Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows is fantastic. There’s a natural ebb and flow, a rhythm that is masterfully fluid beating throughout the film. Farhadi takes a seemingly regular event and turns it upside down, shattering everything for the characters and taking the audience on a journey of realizations. The film leaves you wanting more, while also coming to a satisfying conclusion.
Laura (Penélope Cruz) and her children return to Spain for her sister’s wedding. It’s a family affair and Laura is excited to be there, even though her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darín), couldn’t fly in from Buenos Aires. During the wedding, however, Laura’s daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), is kidnapped. Laura begins receiving text messages threatening harm upon Irene if Laura goes to the police. Paco (Javier Bardem), Laura’s former boyfriend and family friend, gets involved and commits himself to helping to find Irene. But as the days go on and stress and desperation begin to take its toll on the family, long-held secrets and buried grudges come to light, threatening to tear everyone apart.
Everybody Knows is full of nuance, even while the film’s primary reveal isn’t at all subtle to the audience. The story isn’t interested in hanging itself on the obvious secrets of the film, but in the exploration of what these secrets and former conflicts can do to people and how they can easily destroy relationships, familial and otherwise. In every character there is a human flaw, an anger burning just beneath the surface. It’s pushed to the forefront by the unfortunate circumstances and when the final reveal (the most intriguing of all, really) happens, it puts a wrench in everything previously known about Laura’s family. Most of the characters’ decisions, actions, and feelings are understood and with so much happening, Farhadi makes it so he doesn’t linger far too long on any one character before moving on.
Farhadi has always had a fascination with gripping family dramas and the effects it can have on established relationships. Trust between characters is always explored and the director is always intent on loosening the hold on seemingly strong relationships and watching them unravel within the span of two hours. Everybody Knows follows the same path and it’s gripping to watch. The film focuses on the effects of grief, on the consequences of decisions both past and present, and the burden of knowing the truth. There are certain plot threads that come in too late and don’t tie in as naturally as others and one character motivation that is iffy at best. Regardless, the attention to detail and how the story is woven together is fantastic. It’s hard not to get caught up in every development, the mystery, and the history between the characters that is ultimately their undoing.
Penélope Cruz gives an exceptional performance, keen on painting the picture of a distressed and desperate mother full of grief and anguish. She makes tough decisions, ones that she knows have the potential to destroy the solid relationships she’s built. Likewise, Javier Bardem gives a layered performance. He and Cruz’s characters obviously have great affection for each other and it’s obvious to see. Bardem portrays a man who’s willing to help Laura as much as he can, committed to finding Irene even at the expense of his own marriage to his wife, Bea (Bárbara Lennie). The film is also a bit too willing to give his character a break at every turn so that his hands are completely clean by the end of the film, even though he also makes questionable decisions.
Ultimately, Everybody Knows has a clear trajectory and is not willing to wrap everything up in a neat bow. Instead, it lives off of the unsettling unknown. The twist, though not unexpected, isn’t played for melodrama, but works as an additional layer to the already intricate story. It’s in the completely ordinary that extraordinary circumstances occur and Farhadi makes most of the drama work. Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem give wonderful, nuanced performances and the film never crosses the line into soap opera territory when it easily could have. While it does drag in some instances, Farhadi delivers another well-rounded family drama, directing with a natural fluidity that elevates the story in so many ways.
Everybody Knows has a clear trajectory and it’s not willing to wrap everything up in a neat bow, but rather lives off of the unsettling unknown.