We were outside the rather unloved cinema 3 in Luna Leederville. Doors were closed, the room housed less than 30 people and potential viewers were mounting.
Thus far, none of our expected six were among them and Greg Jude and I took possession of the back two rows and held our ground from couples wanting seats. Stressful times.
The slightly dingy seating seemed a poor home for what we were about to see: Everybody Knows (2018), the latest film from writer-director Asghar Farhadi, most famously creator of A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016).
Soon the stress was gone. The Magnificent Six had arrived and the opening credits rolled. Farhadi had us in the bell tower of a Spanish village’s church. The cogs of the clock turned and meshed while pigeons fluttered having entered through a hole at the V for five in the clock face. A bell waited for its time to chime.
Cohesion versus mayhem, systematic working of the norm versus the flapping wings and flying birds’ feathers. On the walls of the belfry were carved lovers’ signatures, notably an L and a P close together, signifying Laura and Paco.
As the visiting Laura (Penelope Cruz) and her children, Irene (Carla Campras) and Diego (Ivan Chavero) are driven into the village by Laura’s sister Ana (Inma Cuesta), the four are happily face timing with the children’s unseen father, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin).
Soon we see Paco (Javier Bardem) driving a tractor at his vineyard. Grapes are being picked by an itinerant crew in what looks a happy workplace.
Here I pause to identify Laura’s family so plot explanations can be more easily followed:
Antonio (Ramon Barea) father of three daughters; shaky on his legs
Mariana (Elvira Minguez) eldest daughter, wife of
Fernando (Eduard Fernandez) slightly disgruntled son-in-law, running a hotel with his wife
Rocio (Sara Salemo) Above’s daughter; mother to a girl whose father is seeking work in Germany
Laura (Cruz) middle sister; lives in Argentina; success story, mother of two; married to
Alejandro (Darin) has previously donated to the village church’s restoration, parents of
Irene (Campras) approximately 16-year-old, risk-taking girl much beloved by all the family
Diego (Chavero) bespectacled probably six-year-old, ditto
Ana (Cuesta) youngest sister, tomorrow marrying reasonably late in life to
Joan (Roger Casamajor) not from the village but seemingly a very safe catch
Paco (Bardem) son of the family’s servants; in love with Laura in their youth; made good
Bea (Barbara Lennie) happily married to Paco; silently wary of his former love for Laura
Back in the main frame, Farhadi takes us on a whirlwind tour of the family; wedding guests arriving; Paco’s jovial interaction with the townspeople and Laura’s family; Irene’s recklessness as she rides a motorcycle with smitten teenager Felipe (Sergio Castellanos) on the pillion.
The wedding goes through smoothly except for some unexpected bell ringing. Irene has done this, soon after altering the hands of the clock by reaching through the hole in its face. Felipe is horrified and well he might: everything begins to change. Life in the small village life is rent asunder during the evening festivities. Cohesion to mayhem.
Storm clouds gather. An electricity blackout occurs. Paco gathers his workers to bring a generator from his vineyard. Light is restored but Irene, who is believed in bed, sick from one cigarette and one glass of wine, has gone missing. Newspaper clippings of a previous grisly kidnap have been left on her bed though the immediate thought is she is playing a prank.
Warned not to involve police, the family has nowhere to turn, except perhaps on each other? Paco does all he can and Fernando takes Laura and Paco to meet a former police officer whose input is relatively accurate but disturbing to hear.
It then comes to light that Alejandro hasn’t worked for two years and isn’t the wealthy Argentine businessman everybody believes. He cannot pay the ransom.
Desperate to raise this ransom, Antonio gets drunk in the village bar, rounding on his fellow towns people to pay back money he alleges they owe him. It is here we learn that he destroyed the family’s fortune playing poker and that Laura sold a property at a cheap price to Paco to help her father. This once barren land has been turned into the successful vineyard by Paco and Bea’s hard work. Bitterness reigns and the old man accuses “the servants’ son” of swindling the family.
When Alejandro arrives in Spain, he is to experience a lot more hurt than just trying to find his kidnapped daughter. His unwavering belief in God helps him but runs pretty thin with all the family.
Further information would ruin the plot line (and I urge those who have not seen Everybody Knows to do so) but several sidelights need be aired:
- Farhadi is Iranian and wrote the script in Farsi. How then did he direct a film in Spanish, which he doesn’t speak? (Thank you Bill)
- Cruz and Bardem are a couple in real life (Thank you Peter)
- The significance of the first shots in the church tower cannot be underestimated (thank you Paul)
- The significance of the later shots of council workers hosing down the cross in the town square was also pointed (thank you Prue)
- A plot device involving the kidnappers’ knowledge of the respective financial fortunes of Alejandro and Paco stretched the imagination (thank you Tony) but then “everybody knows” so perhaps this wasn’t such a stretch?
- I loved the film (thank you Greg) and enjoyed the greens at dinner (thank you Carla). It seemed rude to leave you both out of the praise?
Farhadi’s film is well up to his previous efforts and works as a reasonably complicated whodunnit. His actors’ use of facial expressions to emphasise hurt and surprise and bewilderment outweighed any need for background music (thank you Bill) and though more than 140 minutes long held me captivated to its end.
To the writer-director’s credit I add the open ends he left at the end of the film. You wonder what may befall some of the main characters whose lives have been inexorably changed.
Most important to me was that I cared about these potential life alterations because Farhadi and his cast had made me care about them.
This quote prefaced my review of The Salesman in April 2017. It has similar connotations for
“Classical tragedy was the war between good and evil…But the battle in modern tragedy is between good and good.” Asghar Farhadi