Everybody Knows

Tom’s Rating: 710; Lucy’s Rating: “Rating is hard without full knowledge of my previous scores.”

Just a day after the slightly surreal experience of watching The Kindergarten Teacher, Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows was a more straightforward affair. When a teenage girl is mysteriously taken hostage during a wedding reception, the girl’s family must work together to stump up the ransom and secure her return. Set in a small Spanish village where everybody suffers from family-induced claustrophobia, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (Lucy: “not as annoying as usual”) hold their own in this thoroughly enjoyable and well-paced whodunnit.

At its heart, this film is about the tensions between members of a once notable family. As mentioned early on, everybody knows… that Laura (Cruz) and Paco (Bardem) were once in love. But everybody also knows about the family’s long history, and of how various extra-familial members (including Paco) came to own parts of their sprawling estate. And, more immediately, everybody seems to know why Irene was abducted.

This thick spider’s web of familial connections, discord and injustices make the more immediate narrative of this film thoroughly enjoyable. While at times the plot twists were a little convenient and predictable, on the whole the film managed to remain cohesive despite the number of old wounds it opened. Paco’s larger-than-life exterior was nicely balanced against both his own demons, and the slights he suffers as an “associate” member of the clan.

I also enjoyed how Farhadi contrasted aspects of the old and new. Almost the entire film is set in a crumbling, albeit idyllic, village within rural Spain. The family’s patriarch, Antonio, is unsteady on his feet, drunk more often than sober, and reminisces incessantly about his past misfortunes. Whereas Irene is young, daring, oblivious to her family’s past. The family pay a group of drone operators to film the wedding, Antonio himself uses a pretty swanky stairlift, and the film doesn’t shy away from modern artefacts like Skype. This mismatch between old Spanish rural life and new technology is a subtle theme that recurs throughout the film, adding an extra layer to what is a relatively predictable story.

While I do not want to give away too much, I would have preferred the “discovery” sequence towards the end of the film to have been more organic. Instead, it almost felt like the film spent so much time exploring different motivations that Farhadi needed a quick-fix to show who actually did it. The only character to discover the underlying plot is minor, and ultimately irrelevant, since they find out after the viewer! There’s some angle where this is a clever play on the genre, but I’m not sure it landed as effectively as perhaps the director imagined.

The film was not a genre-shattering masterpiece, but it was nevertheless good. The aesthetic was arthouse and grainy, and the characters were sufficiently interesting to make this one of the better whodunnits of recent years.