Everybody Knows (CIFF 2018)
review by Jim Laczkowski
Farhadi is a rigorous, prolific filmmaker but not a showy one. He is definitely not the type to simply point-and-shoot, but it’s clear he doesn’t want the camera to be obtrusive, but experiential based on whatever intimacy he’s capturing. His latest finds him out of his native culture and comfort zone which might be a reason for its overall weakness, especially when compared to his previous, more assured work. The story surrounds a mother, Laura (Penélope Cruz, carrying the film), who returns to her provincial village for her sister’s wedding. The night takes a sharp turn when every parent’s worst nightmare becomes her reality: her teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is kidnapped out from under her nose and is being held for ransom by unknown assailants. Reasons behind the kidnapping are slowly revealed and once they are, lives begin to unravel. Secrets from the past involving Laura’s ex-lover Paco (Javier Bardem, great as usual) threaten to shatter the image of the perfect family as they race to collect the money to win her back. There may or may not be twists in store for those who decide to get caught up in this brand of thriller which ultimately settles into familiar family drama territory.
Everybody Knows ultimately ends up as a lesser work from such a class act director. There are elements borrowed from more successful films in his filmography, which makes this one come off as conventional and predictable by nature. Despite being extremely well-acted and engrossing, there is little emotional investment to the proceedings which is surprising given his attention to character detail and fallacy. Further layers of melodramatic intrigue manage to snuff out the bursts of tension, leaving the viewer a bit depleted at times by the many outbursts. Such kidnapping mystery movies as to who is the culprit live or die by their final acts: they either come together seamlessly or unravel with a sigh. This one feels loose and a touch arbitrary, like a pasted-together index card with less assured intentions in the story department. It could credibly make for an enjoyable slice of Euro-noir but from a past master like Farhadi we expect more and end up receiving less.
Obviously, it’s not fair to compare to his other work since this is a separate entity, but it ends up coming across as a mere family drama (with a dash of Prisoners) rather than being additionally enriched and layered by the complex sociological statements he’s made in the past. It’s definitely worth seeing simply because Farhardi seems incapable of making something unworthy of attention or interest, but the consistency seems left behind. A climactic reveal involving the kidnappers doesn’t work in ways that feel satisfying, and the reliance on expository encounters is abundantly clear from the start. Again, if you’re a fan of this filmmaker like I am, you’ll likely be curious enough to see him venture out of familiar territory and language while working with such reliable talent, but the overall execution of how things play out leaves something left to be desired. Still, it is always great to see Cruz and Bardem on screen together even in lesser works, which this one sadly turns out to be in the end.