What the Spanish family drama/suspense thriller “Everybody Knows” may lack in twists and intrigue, it makes up for in performances and appeal from the three principal actors, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darin. This is not to say, the film and its story itself are not good. In fact, If you’re in the mood for a family drama, with a decent side of suspense, then this may actually hit the spot, especially given that there is the usual dearth of worthwhile movies this time of year. The first quarter of the film sets a happy, celebratory tone as Laura (Cruz) and her two children who live in Argentina, return to her hometown, a village outside Madrid for a family wedding. The film’s opening and cast of characters are established with scenes of the Cruz and her kids lamenting the father’s absence from the trip. He supposedly couldn’t join them do to work commitments. The scenes continue with family and friends exchanging warm welcomes full of adoration and hugs, then it’s off to the wedding. After the ceremony, the guests spill out of the church and into the center of town on a beautiful sun-soaked afternoon where the celebrating begins. Refreshingly, although they enlist the help of amateur photographers with drone access, there are no cell phone selfies dominating this or any scene. It’s a small town, with a time-gone-by feel in which everyone knows each other, raise a glass to toast, or gives a glance of judgement. From the town square, the dancing, eating and drinking carry on into the family house and yard that is roomy and charming; old and rustic. It is full of love and laughter. Lights are hung throughout the yard, and all the guests participate, including Laura’s teen daughter, Irene. Without being caught, she and her boyfriend are drinking and smoking too. As the partying goes into the wee hours of the night, the merriment quickly turns to panic and grief when Laura discovers that a sleeping, sickly Irene has been kidnapped.
Leading the charge in the search is family friend Paco, played fiercely and by Bardem. Once Laura’s husband, Alejandro (Darin) arrives from Argentina, the movie embodies a new rhythm and issues beyond Irene’s disappearance are unearthed. Together, they and the family decide to succumb to the kidnapper’s demands and not involve the police or community. As they enlist the help of private investigator and hunt for clues and motives, and Laura becomes more desperate, another mystery begins to unravel regarding a deep family secret and former lovers. Soon the family crumbles under the pressure as does Paco’s wife and marriage. As a result many arguments, confrontations and accusations ensue, seemingly turning the focus of the film from the kidnapping to family dynamics. Questions are raised as to why Paco is willing to sell off his business to provide the ransom. It turns out that Laura and Alejandro’s closely guarded secret is not such secret … everybody knows.
Writer/director Asghar Farhadi makes good use of small spaces and family relations. He’s clearly what is often referred to as “an actor’s director,” pulling out authentic performances from all. Cruz and her two onscreen sisters are more than credible as siblings, and Ramon Barea as the family patriarch who is not aging well, full of resentment and not afraid to express it. Pacing can be key, and mixing genres such as this, can be tricky. Although some scenes get dangerously too close to crossing the line into melodrama, for the most part, he manages to reign things in while also managing to give a nod to contemporary political stigmas regarding immigrants, and moral dilemmas, unresolved though the latter may be. Farhadi shares much of the credit for all of the above to real-life married couple Cruz and Bardem, and Darin as Cruz’s onscreen husband. They are all passionate actors that play well off of each other. Any one of them alone would be worth the price of admission, but all three together make for a cinematic treat.