Thursday 7 March 2019

Everybody Knows (Spain/France/Italy 2018: Dir Asghar Farhadi)

When thinking about the films of Iranian director Farhadi my feelings about his work are summed up by an anecdote about a guy who many years ago asked to hear the new album by US group Galaxie 500 (one of my favourite bands, a group renowned for never varying their sound or song structures) in a record store. The shop owner refused and asked the customer "Did you like their last album? Well then you'll like this one." Like that band Farhadi has a tendency to remake his own films, much in the way Eric Rohmer or Woody Allen do/did. Elements of his storytelling and characterisation re-occur in his work, and nearly all of his films involve a specific incident around which his cast act and react. He's one of my favourite directors and I'm pleased to write that his latest film - thankfully - shows no signs of breaking the thematic mould.

In Everybody Knows, his first film shot in Spain and with a Spanish speaking cast, Penélope Cruz plays Laura, who has travelled from Argentina to a small village outside Madrid for her sister's wedding. Laura is accompanied by her two children, little Diego and also wild child Irene, who before they've even unpacked has hooked up with one of the village boys and is haring off on his motorbike (with her in the driving seat). Only Laura's god fearing husband Alejandro is missing, unable to make the wedding because of work commitments.

The opening scenes are a rush of restless camera movements and the swirl of village life, while our cast are sketched out in the director's usual visual shorthand. Included in the extended party of friends and family gathered for the wedding are Paco (Javier Bardem) a local wine maker, his wife Bea (Bárbara Lennie), and Laura's parents, who still live in the village. The film moves seamlessly on to the wedding celebrations, brilliantly and wittily filmed, lively, joyous and wine fuelled (although as Paco later remarks, it's unusual these days for weddings of outsiders to take place in villages - an observation that gathers importance in terms of what's about to happen).

In the midst of the wedding, and following a power cut (which will also be significant later) it is discovered that Irene - who was put to bed earlier after feeling faint, following an extended bout of dancing - has gone missing. Shortly afterwards Laura, and oddly Paco's wife Bea, receive the same text, stating that Irene has been kidnapped; the ransom is 300,000 Euros. The abduction seems like a well executed and premeditated event.

It's at this moment that the film changes gear as the various members of the family unravel in a sequence of disclosures, accusations and revealed secrets. Farhadi's skill here, which he's done many times before (almost identically in 2009's About Elly), is to take a pivotal moment and then have his actors endlessly revolve around it, giving the audience a deeper understanding of how the characters function simply by their reaction to what has happened. "I'm suffocating," says Paco at one point, and we know just how he feels as the accusations and recriminations escalate.

The wedding, which has been extensively filmed, is re-watched to look for potential kidnappers at the party (it's assumed that it was an inside job and Irene was drugged before being abducted). The constant re-running of the wedding party footage, with its scenes of gay abandon and booze driven merriment, contrasts starkly with the tortured faces of the family as they come to terms with what has happened and attempt to raise the ransom, Irene's life being threatened by the abductors if the family report the kidnapping to the police.

If there is one criticism it's that the events following the wedding scenes seem a little out of balance with the first section of the film, and the suspense is diminished slightly by being too protracted. The performances in the film are so good that this becomes only a minor irritation; Bardem and Cruz dominate and both deliver sensational performances as strong but increasingly vulnerable characters. But the other star here is the country itself. This is Farhadi's first movie in Spain and he has clearly fallen in love with the rhythms of life in the country, which he brings effortlessly to the screen. A slow burner, maybe, but a tense and lovingly photographed one.

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