By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The problem with “Everybody Knows” is that nobody cares.
Nobody in the audience, that is.
A surprising misfire by Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director behind the remarkable Oscar-winners, “A Separation” and “The Salesman,” “Everybody Knows” takes place in a small Spanish village dominated by a dusty old clock tower. The inference is, this is the sort of place where time can too easily stand still.
Laura (Penelope Cruz), who has been living in Argentina, has brought her two children back to her hometown for her sister’s wedding. Their father has stayed behind, though it’s not initially clear why.
What is clear is that this is a festive time for family, friends, and even old flames – such as Paco (Javier Bardem) with whom Laura had been romantically involved for years before leaving the country. He’s now married as well – to Bea (Barbara Lennie) who looks a bit like Laura (in a nice bit of mirroring, Laura’s husband looks a bit like Paco).
Everyone is glad to see everyone, and everything is going along just fine until, in the middle of the wedding, the power goes off and a kidnapping takes place. A happy reunion suddenly turns into a suspense/thriller/mystery. And there are more suspects than there were in the recent “Murder on the Orient Express.”
There’s also no lack of histrionics. Ancient feuds are rekindled. Financial disputes and class warfare erupt. Accusations fly and conspiracy theories are floated. For instance, was this an inside job? And why does Laura seem more dependent on Paco than her own husband who’s arrived to help with the crisis?
Alas, all this stays on the surface. We never become more involved with the characters or their predicaments. The whole movie takes place on the level of village gossip (hence the title) and as such, it keeps going in circles.
Maybe it’s a culture-clash problem. Farhadi wrote the movie in Persian and then had it translated into Spanish. This may not have been the best idea.
The film’s saving grace is its stars. Cruz and Bardem married in 2010 and have made nine movies together, both before and after tying the knot. They have incredible chemistry as well as considerable individual charisma. And when Bardem does an impromptu dance in a sudden downpour, you can’t help but think, gee, is it time for a remake of “Zorba The Greek?”