Asghar Farhadi, the celebrated director behind award-winning films like ‘A Separation’ and ‘The Salesman’, has been a fixture on the festival circuit, for some the pinnacle of contemporary Iranian cinema. For this reason alone, many viewers and critics will forgive his Spanish-language debut ‘Everybody Knows’ its many trespasses and suggest that we’re meant to revel in its heavy-handedness and overwrought storyline. This critic is not one who will contort himself needlessly, for this is not a work worthy of such charity.
Farhadi has taken a few of his directorial tics over to another environment, setting his latest drama in a dusty, sweaty Spanish town. With star power in the form of real-life couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, the film seems on paper to be his most accessible work, drawing audiences into the tale of a family coming together for a wedding only to have the kidnapping of a young girl bring up secrets long buried.
For those being generous, one could argue that Farhadi is using the tropes of melodrama to tug at the audience’s emotions. But for the sober viewer unswayed by the director’s reputation, you can write the whole thing off as a maudlin mess unbecoming of even the most asinine of daytime soap operas. The supposed mystery is telegraphed moments into the story, so that its eventual reveal is drawn out with risibly broad performances and gnashing of teeth. Cruz, Bardem and the rest of the (fine) cast do their best to elevate what’s on the page, but even their electric charisma sours after time like wine left in the sun, so that even the most poignant of attempts feels like the work of amateurs.
A fade to white at the conclusion is just one of many hoary, bloated clichés that the director incorporates in this overlong piece. Despite early visual flourishes like the setting inside a clock tower, the rest of the film is devoid of the scope required to make this smallest of stories feel cinematic.
The defensive will decry a fixation on the meager narrative, or scoff at those inured to the gory emotional pyrotechnics on display in lieu of subtlety of story. They may so desperately wish to justify former successes and forgive this jump into another milieu of all its flaws in favor of championing a well-respected talent.
Don’t be fooled. Everybody knows that ‘Everybody Knows’ is a dud, even if they can’t admit it to themselves.