Cannes Film Fest 2018: Everybody Knows, Oscar Winner Farhadi’s Mystery Thriller-Family Melodrama

There are several ways to look at Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben), directed by Asghar Farhadi, which served as opening night (in Competition) of the 2018 Cannes Film Fest.

From the standpoint of the festival, it’s a decent (but no more) opener, especially compared with the recent selections that kicked off the festival.  Iranian Farhadi is a prestigious director, best known for his Farsi films, A Searation and The Salesman, both of which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in their respective year.

This is Farhadi’s first Spanish film, though he has previously worked in a foreign language (French) in The Past, starring Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim, which was also in Cannes.

Everybody Knows, his ironically titled feature, boasts a large ensemble of talented actors, including two Oscar winners, Penelope Cruz (2008 Supporting Actress for Woody Allen’s comedy, “Vicki Christina Barcelona”) and Xavier Bardem (2007 Best Supporting Actor for “No Country for Old Man”), who’s is also Cruz’s real-life husband.

Despite major shortcomings, commercially speaking, Everybody Knows may be his most accessible film, not least due to its hybrid of two popular genres: a mystery thriller on one level and a semi-involving (if also too sprawling) drama centering on an extended, three-generational family.

Yet something is missing from Everybody Knows to make it a great or even good film: subtlety, complexity, understatement.  In this rather verbose thriller, what you see and what you hear is what you get.  Everything is spelled out via heavy-talk dialogue and explicit non-verbal communication (intense looks, minor gestures, and body movements are crucial trademarks in all of Farhadi’s work).

Our grade: B- (** out of *****)

In the first, rather promising reel, Farhadi introduces a large gallery of colorful characters (about a dozen), all placed at the center or periphery of a an upcoming wedding. (Yes, on yet another level, this feature belongs to the subgenre of a wedding movie).

After 20 years of living in Argentina, Laura (Cruz) returns to Spain to attend the wedding of her younger sister (Inma Cuesta) to Joan (Roger Casamajor).  She has traveled with her teenage daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), who suffers from an illness, and her young son Diego (Ivan Chavero), though the kids’ Argentinean father, Alejandro (Darin), couldn’t make it and has remained at home.

They are staying at the estate of Laura’s aging father, the former landowner Antonio (Ramon Barea). Everyone joyous to see Laura, especially family friend Paco (Javier Bardem), a successful landowner, now happily married to Bea (Barbara Lennie); the couple is childless for reasons that cannot be detailed here.

It takes a whole reel before the first significant piece of information is disclosed, while the wedding is celebrated. Paco’s nephew Felipe (Sergio Castellanos) has escaped to the church’s bell chamber with Irene, where he reveals to her that Laura and Paco used to be childhood sweethearts. (Are they still in love?  Why did they break up?)

Later that evening, Irene is missing. It becomes clear that a crime has been committed when some newspaper clippings of former crimes are found on Irene’s bed, text messages start to arrive, first to Laura and then to Bea.  (Why Bea?) This is when the wedding party, up until then in full swing despite a power outage (which may or may not intentional) and torrential rains, is brought to a fault—and make the crisis even worse to handle due to weather conditions.

Everybody Knows does contain some big and small family secrets (unknown events of the past regarding land sale, unanticipated suspects, who may or may not be close relatives), but they don’t exert the narrative pull and emotional power that these devices have served in Farhadi’s previous work.

The cast, good as it is, may be too large for Farhadi to orchestrate, or integrate in a clear and coherent text. In the second half, two more crucial men appear: Alejandro arrives from Argentina and a retired police officer (Jose Angel Egido) starts asking some unsettling and undesirable questions.

The perpetrators’ identities and motivation, when they are revealed, are not well explored, turning the closure into an arbitrary decision–like saying, the tale needs to end (Mind you the film is long, 132 minutes, overstaying its welcome by at least 20 minutes).

As the plot progresses, Everybody Knows increasingly assumes the shape of a more conventional tale of kidnapping and ransom, revolving around the question of whether or not to call the police, and what will be the best and fastest ways to get the huge amount of ransom that the kidnappers demand.

Up to a point, Bardem, Darin, and especially Cruz manage to overcome some of the script’s deficiencies with their compelling performances.

As noted, the movie lacks in-depth examination of such issues as class difference, morals and ethics, and responsibility, to one’s self as well as to others, be they family friends, lovers (of past and present), or workers in the vine fields.

The cinematography by Almodovar’s  regular Jose Luis Alcaine is lush and glossy in capturing the particular landscape, though it often functions as a distraction from the main plot.  This strategy–again in the name of commercialism?–deviates from the more realistic visual style that the lensers Jafarian and Mahmoud Kalari have brought to the director’s previous and far superior work.