Lush, Gorgeously Shot Settings;
Timely Plot Reveals.
An Academy Award winning director, two great leads, and a captivating trailer was all I needed to invest my time into this family-driven murder mystery. And whole the final product wasn’t as thrilling as that trailer framed, what I got was something even more rewarding, at least on some levels.
Farhadi lets his characters and environment breathe for a long time before disaster strikes, allowing everything in the frame to form, take shape and truly live. It’s a very effective tactic for drawing you into the story and attaching you to this large family in the midst of their joyous celebration, dropping your guard until the moment is right to change everything for the worse. The whole thing feels much more organic this way and it pays emotional dividends as the narrative progresses and reveals more and more layers and complexities.
Once the plot officially begins to move forward, it isn’t exactly unpredictable but the ability to forsee where it might lead doesn’t detract from the journey to get there. It is a mystery yarn, sure, but at its heart it is a character study that ruminates on family, grudges and secrets, showing how the worst situations can either being people together otlr tear them apart.
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem are absolutely incredible in their performances as the mother of a kidnapped girl and her former lover from many years ago. Their past is no secret (hence the film’s title), but that doesn’t mean we know the full story. Obviously, being a real married couple works in their favor, as their chemistry on screen is palpable and makes their past romance all the more real. Cruz plays the devastated mother to perfection, her rapid descent into a shattered husk absolutely agonizing to behold. She is every bit as vibrant and alive in the first act as she is sorrowful and decaying in the third, and she deserves a mountain of credit for her work. Bardem, himself a master of emoting, shoulders the burden as well, as a man who has known this family his whole life and may have the means to help them turn the page on such a tragic chapter. He is crushed as he learns the extent of the role he plays in all this, as he may be the answer to his old flame’s prayers, but at an immeasurable cost to himself. Together, the two leads take the material to greater heights than it could have achieved otherwise.
Farhadi’s script very wisely avoids the one major trap I expected it to fall into, which a mainstream movie would have utilized without hesitation. Laura and Paco (Cruz and Bardem) never rekindle the flame, even if its elbers may still smolder beneath a top layer of ash. The story may revolve around them, but it isn’t about them, and I applaud Farhadi for knowing that.
Jose Luis Alcaine, the cinematographer, really hits a home run. The locale that encompasses the film runs a gamut similar to the main characters, as it goes from sun-bathed and inviting to cold, rigid and closed off. The village looks splendid within these frames, and the backdrops define picturesque. It is splendid to look at, giving you the sense that there is a sprawlingly large amount of beauty to be observed in this remote location, if you look for it. Though Javier Limon is credited with the music, there is very little score to speak of, as music may serve to distract you from observing the character transformations on display. The story is told on their faces and through their words. And while it has its imperfections, it is quite a film to behold.
Everybody Knows is Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi