Real life couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem are very fine in Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s latest.
Some have criticized Farhadi’s new film for for lacking the daring politics of his earlier work (A Separation, The Past and the very dark The Salesman), and yet there’s still much here to admire, with a strong cast, complex characters, a mood of dread and a convincing depiction of a large, extended, complicated family that would make uneasy sense in any language.
Laura (Penélope) and her two kids travel from Buenos Aires to her hometown of Torrelaguna (north of Madrid) for the wedding of her sister, and while there are smiles and celebrations much is left to quietly simmer in the background. She soon runs into Paco (Javier), a farmhand who co-owns the local vineyard and who’s, of course, her ex, although he appears to hold no grudge against her for leaving him. For now anyway.
Bea (Bárbara Lennie), Paco’s wife, believes her husband when he says that there’s no longer anything between him and Laura, and Laura’s frail father Antonio (Ramón Barea) is also a constant concern, as he’s always ready to sling aside his walking sticks and fight his old enemies. And they’re only two of the many characters that swirl around in the build-up to the wedding, which proves a success until it’s discovered that Laura’s teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) has been kidnapped from one of the bedrooms and is being held for ransom.
Instructed not to go to the police (that would spoil the plot, after all), the family members (still clad in party outfits) sit around wondering what to do and where to find the money while, naturally, the stress and tension begins to bring out the worst in everyone. Laura is grilled for having supposedly shot through years ago, Paco’s ownership of the vineyard is endlessly questioned, and something else emerges that changes everything and finally explains the title.
For a film supposedly lacking in political edge, there’s an awful lot going on here about class, social standing and religion, especially when Laura’s fairly hopeless husband Alejandro (Argentine character actor Ricardo Darín) turns up late in the action to talk infuriatingly about God. And then there’s the intense exploration of difficult families in difficult times, something that carries over from Farhadi’s Iranian films and proves just about as powerful and disquieting here.
Nobody here is getting out unscathed, and everybody knows that.
Everybody Knows (MA) is in cinemas now