So, the next great Spanish-language filmmaker is Iranian. I’ve seen weirder things in my time. Iran’s not a good place to be a filmmaker right now, so Asghar Farhadi (who won both of his country’s Best Foreign Film Oscars) has gone to Spain to make Everybody Knows with some of the country’s biggest stars. He takes to this new environment better than you could hope for.
Penélope Cruz plays Laura, a Spanish woman who has been living in Buenos Aires for at least 15 years. She takes her two children back to Madrid for the wedding of her sister (Inma Cuesta), and also to see Paco (Javier Bardem), her ex-boyfriend and a former worker who got rich when he bought some farmland from the family and used it to become a winemaker. Everything goes well until the rain- and wine-soaked wedding reception, during which Laura’s teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) reports not feeling well and goes up to her bedroom. A few hours later, Laura discovers Irene missing from her room. There has been a spate of kidnappings in the area, and Irene has become its latest victim.
From this proceeds an engrossing 133-minute mystery tale. Why did the kidnappers lock the bedroom door after themselves when they left? For that matter, why did they leave Irene’s little brother (Iván Chavero) undisturbed in the same bedroom, when a small child would be much easier for a kidnapper to handle than a teenager? Why are the ransom texts coming to Paco and his wife (Bárbara Lennie) rather than the girl’s parents? Farhadi lives for buried family secrets the way Tennessee Williams used to, and he surveys the family members calmly and coolly as decades-old grudges are dredged up, spouses and siblings eye each other suspiciously, and a wedding video is scrutinized for clues like the Zapruder film. One of Farhadi’s great subjects is the thin line between hard facts and our flexible imaginations, and when Laura tells Paco that Irene is his daughter, is she telling the truth or a monstrous lie borne of desperation to make him pay the ransom? Does she even know? It feels so Farhadi that the mystery is eventually solved not by any of the principals but by a minor character, and the film ends before we find out what she does with the information.
This Muslim filmmaker finds himself quite at home in a Christian environment — during the wedding ceremony, Irene playfully swings on the bell rope in the church, and the priest doesn’t miss a beat, swerving from the wedding vows to an appeal to his congregation for donations to repair the building. That’s funny, but Laura’s devout, recovering alcoholic Argentinian husband (Ricardo Darín) is treated with due sincerity when he arrives and talks about how he prayed to Jesus at a low point in his life. Darín is one of Argentina’s best actors right now, and it’s a treat to see him interact with his Spanish co-stars. This sort of crossing of national lines is much rarer in Spanish-language cinema than it is in English, and it was Farhadi rather than a native-born Spaniard who made it happen.
I find this more accessible than Farhadi’s other films, but that may just be because my Spanish is better than my Farsi. I needed it, too, because the projection at América Cinemas at Gran Plaza (the only place in Tarrant County where it’s showing) was cutting off the top and bottom of the picture, including the English subtitles. If your Spanish isn’t up to scratch and the theater doesn’t fix the issue, you may want to wait for a version with subtitles. Regardless of how you see it, you’ll find Everybody Knows a gripping human drama worthy of standing with the films that Farhadi made in his own country such as A Separation and The Salesman. The film is coming to us at the same time as last year’s Foreign Film Oscar contenders, but it is a 2019 movie, and if Spain doesn’t submit this for consideration for the award next year, they’d better have a really good replacement.
Starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. Rated R.