Following two Oscar wins for Best Foreign Language Film (A Separation and The Salesman, for which he did not accept his Oscar in person, in protest of Donald Trump’s travel ban), Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi takes us to a small, drama-drenched Spanish village for his latest film, Everybody Knows. Seriously, this film is ALL DRAMA, so much so it doesn’t even get through all of it. There is still Major Drama going down as the film fades out, as if to say, I’m sorry but it has been TOO MUCH DRAMA, we simply have to stop now. Everybody Knows is classic Farhadi, as class and social structure cross with a telenovela, which is to say it’s a nervy thriller and ESCANDALO.
The film begins with a celebration, as Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns home to Spain for her sister’s wedding. At first, it seems like the only storm cloud around comes in the form of her elderly, ailing father, Antonio (Ramón Barea). Laura seems to have it together, with two pleasant children, including her beautiful daughter Irene (Carla Campra), and a wealthy Argentinian husband, who did not make the trip with her. Her sister is marrying a dashing Catalan man, and everyone remarks on how well the sisters are doing. Which, naturally, is when everything goes to sh*t.
There is a kidnapping which brings out FAMILY SECRETS, including dredging up old drama between Laura and her childhood sweetheart, Paco (Javier Bardem), who runs the nearby winery that employs much of the village. This is where Farhadi’s classic theme of class and social strata enters the story. It turns out there has been a reversal of fortune, as Laura’s family initially owned the winery and Paco was a worker’s son. But thanks to Antonio’s gambling, Paco ended up with the estate and Laura’s family is relatively impoverished. But the reversal does not erase class lines, and Antonio, at least, continues to look down on Paco.
And this is hardly the only drama going. Remember I said kidnapping? Because that is happening, too. Family secrets start spilling out when the ransom demand reveals the true state of Laura’s supposedly wealthy husband. Laura and Paco not only have to navigate the kidnapping and their inter-family battle, but also reckon with Paco being the one capable of paying the ransom. And these aren’t even the biggest secrets being uncovered – there are far bigger and messier truths being revealed than just personal finances. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of drama, with bonus xenophobia plaguing the whole thing as some family members suspiciously eye foreign farm workers. One of the saddest moments in the film is when that suspicion starts rubbing off on Paco, who actually works with the men and trusts them.
On the one hand Farhadi has made a solid thriller with a healthy dose of pulp, but on the other, this is a thematically consistent examination of class. The kidnapping forces out all the resentment and anger seething just under the polite surface of Laura’s family, and for the most part the film balances the pulp and the larger themes well. It’s not the most puzzling mystery to unravel—once the secrets start coming out it’s not too hard to at least see the big picture of the kidnapping plan—but it is effective tension and DRAMA. Seriously so much drama. The film is called Everybody Knows, referring to those open secrets that reside in every family, but it might as well be called La Boda Dramática because this is one of the most ESCANDALO weddings in recent cinematic memory. It’s almost “invite my three potential fathers to my island wedding behind my mother’s back” levels of drama. I guess what I’m saying is Everybody Knows is the Mamma Mia! of TIFF.