BEN IS BACK
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernandez, Barbara Lennie, Inma Cuesta
Director: Asghar Farhadi
The mixture of plot twists and moral shading, the focus on flawed characters and irresolvable pasts, all feature within Everybody Knows as the film wrestles with these dilemmas, ultimately successfully. This is Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s first work in Spanish and stars Penelope Cruz as Laura, a wife and mother who returns to the village where she grew up after years of living in Argentina with her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin). The reason for the reunion is her sister’s wedding, which brings joy but also anxiety for Laura. While she’s happy to see her family after being gone for so long, there’s an overriding tension: why has she been so absent? Also making things complicated is that this is the first time in a decade that she’s seen Paco (real life husband Javier Bardem) who owns a vineyard and was once Laura’s lover. However all that’s seemingly in the past since he’s now happily married to Bea (Barbara Lennie). Of course, old lovers and complicated families don’t go away quietly, and those ingredients are the basic building blocks of this film, and once Everybody Knows gets rolling, we raise our antennae, preparing for the shockwaves to come. The wait isn’t long as during the festive wedding reception, Laura’s teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is taken ill, requiring her to go to her bedroom for some rest. Hours later, Laura goes to check on her, discovering the door locked. Even more alarming, when she breaks it down out of concern, she sees that Irene is gone. No one has seen her: Is it a prank? Or something much more serious? Soon, a text message arrives, alerting Laura to the fact that her daughter has been kidnapped—and that the criminals will kill the girl if anyone contacts the police. With Alejandro back in Buenos Aires, Laura will need to decide what to do. And because of their shared history—Paco and Laura, we are told, basically grew up in the same house—Paco pitches in to help.
Everybody Knows becomes a hunt for Irene, but she serves as a phantom—a vessel by which the rest of the characters can tear each other (and themselves) apart. Soon, arguments over what to do about this kidnapping unearth old emotional wounds. Did Paco and Laura really end things as amicably as they thought? What’s the real reason Alejandro didn’t accompany his wife to the wedding? And could Irene’s abduction actually be some elaborate hoax? And if so, who’s behind it? There is an Agatha Christie-like tenor to Everybody Knows, which presents us with a vast canvas of characters who may or may not have information regarding the kidnapping. But there’s no Hercule Poirot on hand to brilliantly dissect the clues—instead, there’s only Laura, her anxious husband and the tormented Paco, who takes Irene’s disappearance surprisingly personally. Unfortunately for Paco, his wife notices this and grows increasingly suspicious of the man she thought she knew. Amidst a quite superb cast, Bardem and Cruz are both strong, playing characters who haven’t let go of the past. Farhadi skillfully moves his protagonists around the chessboard, with only Lennie feeling fully untethered, as her wild card of a character refuses to be reined in by her husband.