It’s not often that a film in a foreign language gets a decent distribution in cinemas – not extensive, perhaps, but certainly better than the limited ones we’ve grown used to. So hats off to Universal for bringing Everybody Knows, the opener from last year’s Cannes Film Festival, to hopefully a wider audience. Such is the power of the Spain’s Oscar winning megastar partnership of Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
Despite the English title, it’s entirely in Spanish, set in rural wine growing country, with Laura (Cruz) returning with her children to her home town for her sister’s wedding. Curiously, her husband stays at home in Argentina. The wedding is a high spirited, community celebration but the festivities shudder to a halt when Cruz’s teenage daughter disappears in the night. It’s an incident that reveals family secrets and means that one person, in particular, loses everything.
The portrait of the sleepy country town is beautifully done, starting with the dilapidated church’s clock tower. Pigeons flutter on the inside of the clock face, desperately trying to escape and, as the narrative unfolds, there’s a lingering question about its connection to the girl’s disappearance. Or not, as the case may be. The wedding ceremony and celebrations are vibrant with colour and energy: the smell of the food and wine almost wafts from the screen and the joie de vivre – or Spanish equivalent – is infectious. Director Asghar Farhadi’s inclination to dwell too long on this section of the film is forgivable when the result is so gloriously sparkling.
But it’s with the disappearance that the effervescence goes flat. He maintains that leisurely pace, again taking too much time but this time the result is that any attempt at ratcheting up the tension fall flat and spills over into melodrama. As for the family secrets that emerge as a result, some you can see coming a mile off, others are harder to foresee. But the reactions of the family are all too predictable and the film collapses onto its face.
Thankfully, Cruz and Bardem save it from being a complete write-off. Her grief and despair is heartbreakingly convincing and Bardem, as her one-time lover and now local vineyard owner, is sympathetic as somebody who is caught in a no-win situation: he’s not part of the family yet he’s treated as one, for good or bad. Between them, their performances give some strength to the hammer blows inflicted on the rest of the family and the director must be thanking his lucky stars that he got them involved. There’s also an impressive supporting turn from Ramon Barea, as the patriarch of the family – a bad tempered old grumbler with a knack for stirring up trouble. Yet it’s a glaring inconsistency that, while everybody on the screen knows the film’s big secret, he’s oblivious of it. How do we know? Because if he’d known, he would have blurted it out years ago!!
Everybody Knows falls into the triple trap of being overlong, unsubtle and melodramatic, despite its efforts to give some insight into how families react and can be destroyed by tragedy. Thankfully, the acting keeps us watching but the film needs more to succeed properly – a large shot of energy.
Freda Cooper | [rating=3]
Drama,Thriller | Cert:15 | UK, 8 March (2019) | Universal Pictures | Dir. Asghar Farhadi | Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ramon Barea, Ricardo Darin, Carla Campra.