Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has enjoyed much critical acclaim with his impactful social-realist movies, and he has turned his directorial gaze to the dusty Spanish suburbs for his latest piece. Mystery drama Everybody Knows follows Laura (Penélope Cruz) who, with her children in tow, returns to her hometown for her sister’s wedding. She reconnects with old flame Paco (Javier Bardem) at the ceremony, but the family fun comes to an abrupt end when her teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) goes missing in the night.
In the opening act as Laura and her kids are welcomed back into the family home, an ominous tone is established to suggest that there’s danger on the horizon. Once the foreshadowing inevitably comes to fruition, the film’s atmosphere manages to be understated whilst having a quiet intensity. Farhadi’s intelligent script craftily reveals backstory as the plot thickens, and the character dynamics constantly evolve as old secrets and lies are thrust back into the spotlight. Even as tropes and red herrings come into play, the diegesis never feels clichéd due to the director’s pragmatic, almost documentarian approach to storytelling.
Real life spouses Cruz and Bardem work well together and though they’re not a couple in this particular collaboration, their characters’ shared history translates seamlessly on-screen. Despite the harrowing subject matter, their performances are masterfully restrained and convey a gamut of emotions in a powerful yet profound manner. Accomplished actor Ricardo Darin is introduced around halfway through proceedings, and his involvement really elevates the rest of the cast as the rich narrative approaches its suspenseful finale.
Everybody Knows subtly draws the audience into its intimate drama, and brilliantly illustrates how simmering perennial grudges threaten to boil over in times of strife. Farhadi sets the scene for conflict and steps back to let his sublime performers do the rest, with Cruz and Bardem bringing their brand of vehement Latin spirit to his fascinating fable.