A kidnapping’s viral infection of an extended family through its intertwined history, gossip and the secrets “Everybody Knows” is the focus of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s latest drama.
It’s an intimate melodrama of tightly wound performances depicting conflicted relationships between people traumatized by shock, but too wrapped-up in old grudges to not have their suspicions.
The director of “The Salesman” and “The Past” takes his time unraveling the mystery that drives the plot. But that allows a stellar cast headed by husband-and-wife Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and the terrific Argentinian Ricardo Darín and dazzling and new-to-most-of-us Spaniard Bárbara Lennie to simmer, suffer, lash out and explode under the pressure that this harrowing situation puts them all in.
Laura (Cruz) has returned to the town (Torrelaguna, north of Madrid) of her youth for a cousin’s wedding. She’s brought her little boy and teenage daughter, Irene, with her from Argentina, where they now live.
We see Irene (Carla Campra) take on a little “wild child cut loose” behavior, hurtling helmetless on cousin Felipe’s moped, drinking and smoking, letting him steal a kiss in clock tower of the village’s ancient church.
Just like her parents, Felipe (Sergio Castellanos) says, pointing out the carved initials of her mother’s name and that of her adolescent love, Paco. It’s one of those secrets in town that “todos lo saben” — “Everybody Knows.”
The power goes out, mid-revel, on the night of the wedding. And that’s when Irene is taken, by kidnappers who have taken the time to deposit clippings of a previous kidnapping that didn’t end well as a warning.
Laura falls apart, wailing in the streets.
“Do something,” she cries (in Spanish, with English subtitles). “I beg of you!”
Paco (Bardem) springs into action. But he is out of his depth, and following the “Don’t tell the police or else” edict of the kidnappers, he doesn’t know what to do.
Nor does anybody else. So they all start asking questions, accusing first Paco’s vineyard workers, then his wife Bea’s “last chance” tech school students.
Why didn’t Laura’s husband, Alejandro (Darín) make the trip with her?
And then, there’s the tortured history of Paco’s “estate,” the vineyard he bought from Laura’s family, on the cheap, long ago. Old grudges die hard, memories of bad business deals die harder.
Farhadi keeps the focus on the two families — Laura’s, where her helpful uncle (Eduard Fernández) finds an ex-cop (José Ángel Egido) they can confide in, who opens several cans of worms; and Paco and his wife Bea (Lennie, fierce), who asks even tougher questions and suggests conspiracies at every turn.
The grace notes of the picture are the sunbaked Spanish locations and the characters wholly inhabiting them. Bardem plays Paco as “the fun uncle,” a man with a huge laugh, a ready smile for the ladies and the life of the wedding party when he’s in his (wine) cups.
He’s a Zorba-sized bon vivant, at times, and that’s a hint. If you ever remake “Zorba the Greek,” Bardem is your man.
Cruz’s Laura suffers and comes to pieces in the most realistic ways. Watch her fall utterly apart phoning Alejandro with the news.
Darín, of “The Secret in Their Eyes,” holds his own in this illustrious, Oscar winning company, playing a man suspected by others and humiliated at the parts of his life that it turns out, “Everybody Knows.”
Ransom demands, the amateur “investigation” that Paco and Fernando try to mount, all that is mere window dressing for a movie that is more interested in the fissures that this horror has opened old wounds made fresh by the stress, fractures in family and friends as most everybody starts to suspect “inside job.”
Farhadi breaks his self-imposed format of confining the film to the family, letting us know only what they know, in the third act. But he never abandons the mostly static shots that capture simmering stillness of the acting, with only a little drone-footage of the wedding reception enlivening the visuals.
Frankly, “Everybody Knows” plays like the smartest, subtlest Spanish soap opera ever and could have done with a little more sizzle — more attention to the mystery, maybe a brisker pace.
It’s still a fine showcase for great acting, a great setting and a pretty good, if not great yarn unraveling the social fabric of a family, its history and the ugly secrets “Everybody Knows” but nobody has talked about — until now.
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darín, Bárbara Lennie, Carla Campra
Credits: Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. A Focus Features release.
Running time: 2:12