Irene So Far Away: Farhadi Stumbles with Spanish Soap Opera
Two-time Oscar-winning Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi (A Separation; The Salesman) makes his Spanish-language debut with Everybody Knows, a high-profile thriller headlined by celebrity couple Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. Penned by Farhadi, who once again employs familiar tactics of familial dissent catalyzed by on off-screen event which causes a ripple effect of discord, his latest chamber drama masquerades as an Agatha Christie whodunnit surrounding the kidnapping of a young girl during an elaborate family wedding. However, much like his overstated 2013 French-language drama The Past, Farhadi seems less adroit at conveying subtleties when forced outside of Farsi (and, perhaps, the conservative constraints of Iranian cinema) by spelling out the obvious when it comes to characterization and narrative development. What we’re left with is a soggy Spanish soap opera neutered of its potential.
Laura (Cruz) and her children have arrived in her hometown outside of Madrid after traveling from Buenos Aires, where she has been living for the past fourteen years with her husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin). Attending the wedding of one of her sister’s, Laura enjoys a healthy reunion with her siblings and her past flame Paco (Javier Bardem), who is now happily married to teacher Bea (Barbara Lennie). But when Laura’s teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is suddenly kidnapped and she’s told not to contact the police, the family supports her decision not to do so. With Alejandro flying in from Argentina, a whole slew of muddled family history is reexamined regarding the exchange of property between Laura and Paco, festering familial resentments, and misconceptions about who is wealthy and why. Employing the assistance of a retired police officer to help navigate the scant clues involving Irene’s kidnapping results in troubling aftershocks within Laura’s seemingly easy-going family.
Cruz and Bardem, fresh off their latest stint in the English-language biopic Loving Pablo, reunite as star-crossed lovers whose teenage proclivities inform their current predicament, as is slowly revealed by tidbits from supporting characters. Bardem manages to come across more favorably thanks to the limited demands of Farhadi’s script, as he’s a potential suspect along with all the rest of the non-descript family members who provide an array of distracting elements.
Cruz, on the other hand, is forced to languish in anguish, within hours of her daughter’s kidnapping she’s fallen into Victorian era approximations of grief, calling out to her stolen progeny forlornly beneath her mascara-tinted tears. A major plot point is the family’s refusal to call the police, even after a retired police officer confirms for them the act was not committed by professionals and poor Irene is desperately in need of medication to breath properly. Instead, Farhadi focuses on the exchange of property between Laura and Paco which has caused a disintegrating rift with her family, who believe Paco acquired the land for much less than what it was actually worth.
Like the squabbling economic backbone of the Getty kidnapping, recently explored in both All the Money in the World and “Trust,” what everybody knows in Everybody Knows is who has the capacity to be grifted. As we’re repeatedly informed over and over again by Farhadi’s screenplay, it’s someone from within the extended family which orchestrated the plight of Irene…and as audiences are wont to do, the limited number of suspects makes some third act surprises a bit underwhelming.
For the lack of subtlety in Farhadi’s dialogue, there’s an attempt to establish some visual motifs which would have seemed nifty from something a little more polished. An opening credit montage plays over the calibration of church bells, a ticking mechanism which leads to the expected explosion of noise. Likewise, Farhadi deposits an ambiguous confession of a tragic revelation amidst some domineering streetsweepers, as if to indicate the film’s (and family’s) complete rehabilitation.
And yet, for all Farhadi’s swooping canvas of multiple characterizations all somehow equally implicated in ongoing familial resentments, Everybody Knows is a far cry from the prowess of the filmmaker’s earlier features such as About Elly (2008) or his breakthrough masterpiece A Separation (2011). Instead, Everybody Knows morphs into a silly, star-studded prestige picture which sags beneath a scenario which becomes incredibly unconvincing as it moves through the motions.
Reviewed on May 8th at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival – Competition. 132 Minutes