What do you get from Everybody Knows? You get Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, a wedding in a dusty, sun-baked Spanish village, a kidnapping, and the unravelling of decades of family secrets. Directed by Asghar Farhadi (two-time Academy-Award-winning director of 2012’s A Separation and 2016’s The Salesman), Everybody Knows blends melodrama and mystery. It’s a bit slower than your average thriller, but no less worth watching.
Everybody Knows—Todos lo saben in Spanish—has a simple enough premise; Laura (Penélope Cruz) and her children return to Spain from their home in Argentina to attend a family wedding, but the festivities are interrupted when Laura’s daughter Irene is discovered missing from her room. Laura receives a text saying that she’s been kidnapped, and the abductors will kill Irene if anyone tells the police. What follows is part thriller, part character study. The seemingly loving family unravels completely, spitting venomous accusations at each other and resurrecting old grudges before they can even empty the half-drunk wine glasses from the wedding celebration.
In the family, no one is above suspicion. In probably the film’s most vibrant scene, jubilation turns to despair as the wedding reception is suddenly interrupted by Irene’s kidnapping. Guests put down their drinks and stare in shock as Laura runs into a torrential downpour outside. In one shot, the bride stands wary near the doorway in her wedding dress. “What’s happened?” she asks as Laura calls out for her daughter. But as the news hits and cousins, aunts, uncles, and parents wail and gasp, you can’t help but wonder whether they’re grieving or guilty. Surprisingly, the kidnapping takes a backseat to the characters’ emotional reactions to the event. As the film moves forward and the situation becomes increasingly dire — including a request of an exorbitant amount of ransom money for Irene’s safe return — secrets come out. Cracks in the family’s façade widen and threaten to break the characters apart.
One surprise is that the film has no score or soundtrack — it doesn’t need one. The moments of melodrama and pain, longing and betrayal, are wholly reliant on the actors’ delivery alone, and they rarely fail.
Even when the story loses its momentum and sags a bit in the middle, the characters consistently fascinate. Anchored by intensely moving performances by both Penélope Cruz as a terror-stricken mother, and Javier Bardem as a local vintner and family friend, the film explores the breakdown of their relationships as they face the possibility that someone close has done the unthinkable.
The setting itself, a small Spanish village, feels appropriately both charming and stifling. Filmed in Torrelaguna, a town just north of Madrid, the film includes breath-taking shots of shadowy vineyards, and village piazzas. The cinematography paints a vivid picture of the story, and hints that what occurs off-screen is just as rich as what the camera shows.
Tonally, Everybody Knows is less a heart-racing thriller à la Taken (2008) than it is a Spanish Stealing Beauty (1996) or Call Me By Your Name (2017), if those films were less concerned with love and more worried about skeletons in the family closet. Overall, Everybody Knows is a well-crafted mystery with a precise vision and strong cast.
Image: Universal Pictures International.