THREE AND A HALF STARS Does anybody know who kidnapped a teenager during a family wedding?
Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem
DRAMA SPANISH LANGUAGE #GRETA
This family drama come thriller from Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi finds the Iranian director in southern Spain and free from the shackles of his home country. This is both a blessing and a curse: he’s able to explore ideas without the burden of a repressive state, but also seems less focussed without them. Nonetheless, any drama from the director of A SEPARATION and THE SALESMAN is to be welcomed, especially when it stars Latino heavyweights like Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darín.
Cruz anchors this story as Laura who returns to her Spanish village for a family wedding. She brings her teenage daughter and younger son while her husband (Darín) stays in Argentina for work. At first it’s all glorious sunshine and stunning scenery as they prepare for the wedding, the extended family each helping to lay tables and set the scene. Paco (Bardem) runs a successful vineyard on land that once belonged to Laura’s now bitter father; Paco’s nephew takes a shine to Laura’s daughter; cousins, uncles and aunts all have an opinion about everyone else in the family - in short, it’s a typical wedding.
That’s until the power goes out and Laura’s daughter goes missing. Text messages follow and the wedding comes to an urgent halt when it becomes clear the girl has been kidnapped. But by whom, and why? As they sift through stories ancient and new, secrets are exposed and acrimony runs rife. Everybody seems to know something about someone, but does anyone really know anything?
EVERYBODY KNOWS is much looser than Farhadi on fire, most obviously in awkward plot-holes that aren’t evident in his best work. He seems more interested in the social dynamics than the central plot and therefore his victim, a casualness that lends the story an unwanted air of melodrama. It doesn’t help that the gorgeous cinematography of José Luis Alcaine is one beat away from cliché as he wanders through sun-dappled vineyards and cobbled villages. What works for Almodovar’s heightened sensibility seems over-bright here, especially when compared to the director’s usual taste for unpolished realism.
Nonetheless, there’s enormous pleasure in watching the story’s layers peel back to reveal new and unimagined relationships and truths, and the impact they have on the family, past and present. The troika of Cruz, Bardem and Darin gives the film its power, but also enables and energises the rest of the cast who round out a sensational whole. Farhadi's capacity to juggle so many characters while teasing out a coherent and compelling film is what makes him such a talent, and while this may not be his best film, it remains a powerful and provocative one.