Cannes Review: 'Everybody Knows'

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - 5:02am

Everybody Knows

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“Everybody Knows” (Todos Lo Saben) is an exceptionally good telenovela. Like the other dramas from writer-director Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman”), the film weaves itself through the mess of a family, unraveling — at an exceptionally slow pace — a tight web of secrets and repressed resentments. 

The catalyst for that unraveling is Laura (Penelope Cruz, “Escobar”) who returns to her Spanish hometown from Buenos Aires to attend her sister’s wedding. Her return reunites her with her Paco (Javier Bardem, “mother!”), who is so obviously an ex-flame. It’s a shame the film wastes any time trying to convince us otherwise. At the wedding, a series of mundane misfortunes lead to the disappearance of Laura’s daughter Irene (Carla Campra, “Veronica”). From there, the film keeps itself in quiet rooms filled with tense, unscored conversation. 

Farhadi’s primary interest here seems to be the ways in which information becomes privately public. He could have kept his audience in the company of the knowledge-rich and build tension on the dramatic irony of ignorance. Instead, and to the film’s benefit, he aligns his audience with the lowest common denominator. In that way, every scene gives way to a new revelation. Some land more gracefully than others, but those that don’t carry the heavy assurance of a good telenovela twist.

It’s here that the film's goals and its product begin to diverge. It’s a soap opera with traditional dramatic aspirations. I don’t mean “soap opera” or “telenovela” as insults, but rather as delineations of subgenres. It is refreshing to see melodrama elevated to the extent that Farhadi does in “Everybody Knows.” How the conventions of a “genre film” can be employed to excavate the collective psyche of a family.

The plot he has crafted is airtight and predictable, hitting with swift confidence all the plot points of a traditional soap: questionable parentage, infidelity, familial betrayal. Farhadi, in the second half of the film, manipulates these conventions and the plot gives way to a ten-way standoff. Everyone is a suspect and everyone is innocent.

As abruptly as it is set in motion, the film wraps itself up, with a sudden revelation and a quick tidying up of the few loose ends Farhadi allows himself. The speed with which Farhadi handles his opening and close, cause the second act to drag. The fault of which probably lands on the power of his two leads. Cruz and Bardem are too good—and too good together—to pass up on. But one too many quiet and tearful conversations between the leads pull screen time from an exceptional ensemble casts and sweeps certain revelations into the corners of the narrative.

“Everybody Knows” makes exceptional use of the conventions of the two genres (telenovela soap and whodunit mystery). It’s not profoundly fresh or enlightening, but it doesn’t want to be. It does what it does well. With “Everybody Knows,” Farhadi has crafted a perfect plot with near-perfect dialogue executed by a perfect cast. And it’s this precision that keeps the films shy of it’s mark. There’s no oddity, no edge, no something sinister boiling underneath. There’s nothing going on off screen that we aren’t explicitly told. It’s emotionally and structurally tight, but plays by the rules a little too closely.