★★★★ - STUFF
- In a small Spanish wine-country town, alternately drenched in a downpour or lit up by God's own sunlight, Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is doing some acting.
Cruz is Laura, once a resident of this town, now living in Argentina with her husband and two predictably photogenic offspring. She's back home for a family wedding, with the kids in tow but the husband notably absent.
Waiting for her, as a slightly ill-defined central presence at the wedding, is ex boyfriend (and Cruz's real-life husband) Javier Bardem, looking as always to have been carved out of mahogany and puppies for the express purpose of making every other man on Earth feel slightly less-attractive
What follows, in a tour de force first-act, is a pretty joyous set up, full of old friendships being renewed, new loves perhaps budding and a bit of incomprehension from me, wondering exactly who was who and what they all were to each other.
And then, during a candle-lit rainstorm an apparent tragedy intervenes, and writer/director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Salesman) changes gears to suit. What was loose, free-flowing and warmly lit becomes formal, constrictively framed and cool to the touch.
The family come together in a series of rooms and hallways to try solve the mystery of who has kidnapped Laura's daughter and, since someone who knows them well must have been involved, whether any of the family can be completely trusted.
The trailer and plot outline may make Everybody Knows sound like a thriller, but Farhadi has a more complex and nuanced story to tell. If I had a criticism of the writing – which is often exceptional – it would be that no one seems to be doing anything like enough to find the missing girl. The film is instead preoccupied with who slept with who, what exactly went down when a piece of family land was sold and who should feel most responsible with scraping together the ransom money. An old family friend – a retired detective – is brought into the circle, but has little to contribute bar some gnomic murmurings on the incalculably small odds of any kidnapping scenario ending well.
The acting honours are split between Bardem and Argentinian stalwart Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes), especially for one astonishing, shared scene of revelation and recrimination over God and paternity.
And then there's Cruz. As the mother of the missing teen, Cruz appropriately dials from blissed out to barking mad as the film shifts in tone and I guess we only have the writing to blame that Cruz never locates a middle-ground. Cruz's work here is always visible, never vanishing into a scene as the actors around her are asked to. Whether that's a weakness or a strength of her craft, I still can't decide.
Everybody Knows is a terrific film, but not always the one the posters and the advertising are promising.
In English and Spanish and Catalan with English subtitles.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF