Updated: Feb 8, 2020
Laura arrives at her parent’s house in Spain with her teenage daughter, Irene, and young son, Diego, for her sister’s wedding. Her husband has stayed home in Argentina for work reasons. This gives her a chance to reconnect with family and old friends. During the wedding reception, her daughter disappears.
This is the setup for Everybody Knows, a Spanish language drama that is less a mystery and more about regret, resentment and how far we will go for those we love. It is a genre story focused on the effect the disappearance has on those in Laura’s orbit rather than explanations (there is an explanation, though it is secondary to the personal elements). It is slow-moving, but well-made and always intriguing, with very good performances.
Everybody Knows (129 minutes without the end credits) is the work of Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi. This is not the first time he has used what could have been a simple genre story and instead made it a vehicle to explore complex themes. While a well-devised mystery can be quite compelling, Farhadi is more interested in the internal mysteries driving the characters. The inciting incident causes so much to float to the surface and he dives right in, never giving anyone an easy way out.
He is assisted in this by the committed performances of his lead actors. Penélope Cruz plays Laura as a proud, loving woman who becomes a shell of herself once her daughter disappears. She is devastated and completely dedicated to getting her back. There is a scene after Irene has gone missing where Laura walks up the stairs of her parent’s house calling her daughter’s name. In another movie it could have been ridiculous melodrama, but in Farhadi and Cruz’s hands it is raw and heartbreaking.
The second biggest role is that of Paco, Laura’s old love, played by Javier Bardem. He is married, yet still has feelings for Laura. When she is in need, Paco is the one standing by her, willing to do just about anything to help. Bardem is rather understated most of the way through. His motivations are obvious, but unspoken. It is not until the end, when secrets are revealed, that Paco’s feelings become transparent. Since this is generally a quiet movie, Bardem does not display this verbally. He mainly shows it with body language. The way he seems to sink into himself when he receives major news says more than words could.
There are also a few significant performances from the supporting cast. Ricardo Darín is Laura’s husband, Alejandro. He appears after Irene’s disappearance, shedding new light on Laura’s past and present. It could have been a routine role, but Darín makes Alejandro impactful as well as sympathetic. Bárbara Lennie is passionate and practical as Paco’s wife, Bea. She brings a different perspective to the story. Perhaps the most important supporting character is Irene, even though she does not get much screen time. Carla Campra has a strong presence, supplying a lot of energy and youthful recklessness. She gives a great sense of who Irene is, while adding some uncertainty to the mystery plot.
Everybody Knows is a fascinating movie that sets up a horrible situation, then watches its characters try to navigate it. It is a controlled, intelligent drama, with high-level acting throughout. It is not Farhadi’s best film (that would be the excellent A Separation). It is a little repetitive in the middle and its conclusion does not have the impact I was hoping for. However, it is still clearly the work of someone very good at what they do.
3¾ out of 5
Penélope Cruz as Laura
Javier Bardem as Paco
Ricardo Darín as Alejandro
Bárbara Lennie as Bea
Eduard Fernández as Fernando
Carla Campra as Irene
Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi