Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi specializes in morality tales, layering his stories of domestic drama with political undercurrents and social commentary to masterful effect. The director's first film in Spanish, "Everybody Knows" takes the form of a mystery, wrapped in an old-fashioned melodrama.
It's soapier and less precise than Farhadi's "A Separation" or "The Salesman" — both Academy Award winners for Best Foreign Language Film. But even as a lesser work in the director's filmography, it's still well worth seeing thanks to the excellent performances from its cast, led by Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
Cruz stars as Laura, who's returning to her hometown just outside Madrid for the first time in sixteen years, leaving her husband (Ricardo Darín) back in Buenos Aires to search for work. She's brought her teenage daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), and her young son, Diego (Iván Chavero) along in order to attend a family wedding. Upon arrival, Laura meets up with family friend Paco (Bardem), a successful local winemaker. He and Laura were childhood sweethearts, though Paco is now happily married to Bea (Bárbara Lennie). But there's a reason real-life husband and wife Cruz and Barden get paired together so often on screen (this is their ninth film collaboration), and their chemistry is palpable.
The ceremony goes off without a hitch, and even when the power goes out, the joyously raucous reception carries on well into the night. But at some point in the darkness, Irene goes missing. Laura soon receives a text message from the kidnappers demanding a ransom, and the film suddenly transitions into a whodunit. Suspicions are raised, accusations begin to fly, and the family begins to unravel as long-buried secrets are dredged up from the past.
The mysteries of "Everybody Knows" are ultimately fairly obvious, though the film takes its time revealing them. Farhadi treats the kidnapping plotline as secondary, even when it's powering the narrative. He's far more concerned with the effect the crime has on the relationships between his characters, as class and familial resentments begin to rear their heads. This makes for a rather half-hearted crime story, though Farhadi's textured script remains engrossing (if never truly exciting). But anytime Cruz and Bardem are together onscreen, the sparks they generate keep us riveted.