I'm a sucker for Spanish-language films, partly because I've studied the language for years and can basically order beer — "una cerveza, por favor" — whenever I want. More important, though, Spanish-speaking filmmakers have made some of the most important films over the past few years.
So I was excited to see "Todos lo Saben" — which translates as "Everybody Knows" — and specially because it was written and directed by the noted Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
It’s one of those curiosities that Best Picture Oscars go to producers instead of to the people who do the actual hands-on work.
That said, Farhadi is a much-respected artist who both writes and directs his films, and who concerns himself with serious issues of family strife, of clashing temperaments, of the power of long-held secrets and of the damage that feelings of lost honor can cause.
All those themes are explored in “Everybody Knows,” a Spanish-language film whose title translates to “Todos lo Saben.” Farhadi moved to Spain, at least in part to escape the censorship restrictions of his home country, and – likely because of his reputation – he was able to recruit some of the best Spanish-speaking talent.
Penelope Cruz (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2008’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona”) stars as Laura, a woman living in Argentina who returns to her small-town Spanish home with her two children to attend the wedding of his sister. Her husband Alejandro, played by the esteemed Argentine actor Ricardo Darín, has – shades of complications to come – stayed home.
Typical of Spanish celebrations, the opening half hour of Farhadi’s film features one big party, Laura’s homecoming central to the festivities that seem to involve the whole town. This includes Paco (played by Javier Bardem, Cruz’s real-life husband and the owner of his own Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 2007’s “No Country for Old Men”).
And this is where things get interesting. Laura and Paco have a past, one that involves both a love affair and a transfer of property that once belonged to Laura’s family but is now owned and operated as a vineyard by Paco and his wife Bea (played by Bárbara Lennie).
Unresolved emotions, both between Laura and Paco – but also between Laura and Alejandro and even more so between Paco and Laura’s extended family – still simmer below all the seeming good cheer. They come to a boil when Laura’s teenage daughter Irene goes missing and then virtually explode when it becomes clear that Irene has been kidnapped, references to a former tragic abduction made in newspaper clippings left on Irene’s bed.
All this fits filmmaker Farhadi’s favorite themes. Yet “Everybody Knows” is less a psychological study than it is a film that uses psychological complexity to service a generic plot – one that has more in common with a crime-based mystery-thriller than a sober study of domestic entanglements.
Even the way the movie is filmed, with its editing providing the narrative a freer flow, is different – though this may be merely a sign of Farhadi’s new-found artistic freedom.
What endures is his touch with actors, in this case some of the best that cinema has to offer – not just in the cases of Cruz, Bardem and Darín but, too, with all the supporting cast members.
Farhadi’s career has entered a new chapter. And I, for one, am excited to see what comes next.