Everybody Knows ( 2018 )

★★★★   |   Sept. 16, 2018

The work of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has been well received throughout the Western World. He's one of only a few directors who've won two academy awards for best foreign language film, for "A Separation" and "The Salesman". Here he moves out of his native Iran and sets his movie in rural Spain. Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz take the leading roles, offering him no shortage of star power.

Cruz stars as Laura, a Spanish woman living in Argentina who returns to her hometown outside Madrid for the wedding of her sister. Also attending is her childhood love Paco (Bardem), who now owns a prosperous vineyard on land he purchased from her. Joyous greetings give way to a raucous wedding party, which lasts through the night. However, in the midst of the party, the power cuts out, and soon they discover that Laura's teenage daughter Irene has gone missing. When a ransom note is delivered soon after, the mood changes drastically. There is a scramble to understand what has happened and how to move forward. When Irene's father Alejandro arrives, it becomes clear that, while once prosperous, he's now a broken man without the means to save his daughter. His claims that God will save her are met with contempt and derision by the rest of the family. Paco is left contemplating whether to give up everything he has built to save a girl to which he has no obligation.

The movie is reminiscent of Fahradi's "About Elly", where a singular dramatic event alters the context of the relationships between all the characters. Here the kidnapping is the match which lights the flame of conflict and, as the family struggle to come to terms with their situation, their carefully constructed facade disappears. Years of resentment rear their ugly head and secrets come to the fore. In a community where everybody knows everybody, the crime cannot be random, and suspicion falls on everyone, no matter how close.

Everybody Knows is above all, an exceptionally compelling watch. It is a taut and engrossing thriller, and despite a relatively long runtime, never seems to drag. Its power hangs on a number of tense, dialogue-rich scenes, particularly involving Cruz and Bardem. They shine  in their leading roles but are well flanked by a more than capable supporting cast. It's also clear that Fahradi's unique style has lost nothing after its transportation to the Spanish-speaking world. The movie deals with a number of issues, including love, sacrifice, and the destructive power of secrets, and is a highly recommended addition to the director's catalogue.