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Everybody Knows opens in an aging bell and clock tower of a quiet Spanish town. There are names of teenage paramours carved into the stone, including an ‘L’ and ‘P.’ The bell tolls, giving information to all of the town at once. Birds flutter, some escaping through a small broken piece of the clock face. One large pigeon, try as it might, can’t. I felt the same way in Asghar Farhadi’s overlong and poorly paced family drama.
Laura (Academy Award winner Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is on her way with her teenage daughter Irene and young son from Argentina to her hometown for her sister’s wedding. Husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) stays back for work. Excitable Irene catches the eye of a teen boy on a scooter that stops him in his tracks. Everything is happy and joyous on the surface with Laura complimenting her aging father (“So handsome! You look good!”) and then immediately commenting to her sister at how frail and poor his health looks. Everything’s not what it seems or what people say it is.
It’s not long before the boy on the scooter, Felipe, finds Irene and serenades her with now a motorbike outside of her window like a Romeo to her Juliet. She escapes with him and daredevils along a country road, nearly colliding with Paco (Academy Award winner Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) and his wife Bea (Bárbara Lennie) “Isn’t that your nephew,? she says. Felipe takes Irene to the belltower, where her rebellious streak continues, reaching her hand out of the broken window and calling him a sissy for pulling her back in. They look at the carvings and he tells her that her mother and Paco were together many years before. “Everybody knows,” he says.
Paco is now a part-owner in a vineyard estate on Laura’s family’s property and has a good relationship with Laura’s family, or so he thinks. It’s not long before old animosities rise and resentment, but for what we’re not sure yet, starts to seep in.
The wedding is a huge and very visible affair. Taking place in the town’s church, marching through the square, being recorded both on ground and in the air via a drone with a video camera. It’s an all-seeing eye. The celebration moves to the estate; dancing, singing and joy fill the air. Irene sneaks a glass of wine, possibly more and needs to be taken to bed to sleep it off. The party continues but is cut short when it starts raining and the power goes out. Determined to keep the party going, Paco gathers some of the men to go find a generator and restore power. They do but it reveals that Irene is no longer in her room. She’s no longer anywhere. Laura frantically searches every room attic, calling Irene in hysterical tears.
It is revealed through a series of text messages that Irene has been kidnapped during the party and they demand 300K euros for her return. This sets off a series of unfolding drama of resurrected past sins and secrets, from Paco taking advantage of Laura and buying her land from under her to the family turning on themselves looking for blame, including Laura’s father viciously calling Paco the “servant’s son.” It’s all very sluggishly paced, hashing over things that should have been moved on from and with the exception of Cruz, who goes full telenovela with hysterics and tears, it’s all just a bit tepid.
Farhadi has shown a deft hand with family drama and secrets of the past. His films have won Oscars (The Separation, The Salesman) and top prizes at Cannes (The Past). This, throughout, never feels like true Farhadi. It feels like his attempt to make a more accessible film and with star power like Cruz and Bardem and a story that’s been told before, he’ll probably achieve that. It’s just not a step forward for him as a director, it’s a step back.