If there is one director who knows how to make gripping dramas out of seemingly innocuous plots, it has to be Ashgar Farhadi. You only have to look at his last film, The Salesman, to understand how he is a master at crafting dramas with simmering tension underneath. As an audience you can’t relax; you wait with baited breath for the carefully built pieces to crumble down. And when it does, you are left searching for answers — some within the characters, some within yourself. His last three films before ‘Everybody Knows’ — A Separation, The Past, and The Salesman — follow a similar trajectory to exceptional results. But what about ‘Everybody Knows’? Well, the trajectory is similar, but not the end result. Let’s dig deeper.
‘Everybody Knows’ follows Laura (Penélope Cruz) who travels from Argentina to her small hometown in Spain for her sister’s wedding, bringing her two children along for the occasion. Amid the joyful reunion and festivities, her eldest daughter is kidnapped. As the family frantically tries to locate her whereabouts, past secrets and grudges start rearing their ugly head.
‘Everybody Knows’ is everything that you have come to expect out of a Farhadi film. A story that starts with a troubled family at its centre – a familiar territory for Farhadi – and then evolves into a gripping suspense drama where slowly one by one the deeply buried secrets reveal themselves. The opening moments of the film are particularly impressive, where we are introduced to the family and the place. The wedding celebrations are shot in close-ups to create an immersive effect. And even though, the celebrations are loud and fun-filled, Farhadi also manages to create a sense of impending doom. One aspect where ‘Everybody Knows’ is slightly different from his previous two films is that Farhadi doesn’t take much time to arrive at the “big” event — in his earlier films he has shown more restraint. As the tension mounts and skeletons buried in the closet come out, you brace yourself for an explosive finale. But wait.. this is where Farhadi drops the ball.
‘Everybody Knows’ fails where Farhadi has always succeeded: the climax. Every of his earlier films has ended so brilliantly that you feel gutted. The moral dilemmas that his films present tear you apart as a human. But surprisingly, ‘Everyone Knows’ ends in a whimper. That is what disappointed me a little, especially since the film is so well set up for an explosive finale; but Farhadi chooses an easier path to end the film – on a happy note. There is a twist that occurs two-thirds into the film which arguably is its high point. From there on, it is a downward slope. This is not to say that Everybody Knows is a mediocre film. It is arguably one of the most entertaining films that Farhadi has made. There is hardly any dull moment in the film. Having said that, we have come to expect nothing but path-breaking cinema from Farhadi. So, even though Everybody Knows is better than most films you are going to see this year, it is also one of Farhadi’s weakest film to date. That says a lot about Farhadi’s talents and his success rate. Unfortunately, this time he only partially succeeds.