There’s no sex in one of the sexiest movies in recent memory

Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem star in Asghar Farhadi’s kidnapping drama Everybody Knows.

Penélope Cruz in Everybody Knows

There are few contemporary filmmakers who can bring nuance and depth to the melodrama quite like Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. With critically acclaimed films like A Separation, The Past and About Elly under his belt, he’s been one of the foremost arthouse directors in the world for the last decade. Blending personal drama with social context, he has a natural talent at toeing the line between entertainment and politics. His newest film, Everybody Knows, might be a rare misfire in this sense; though, it must be said, a lacklustre Farhadi is still worth seeing.

Now living in Argentina, Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns with her two children to her hometown in Spain for a wedding reception. As the film opens, we watch as gloved hands slowly cut out news of kidnapping out of Spanish-language newspapers. We know a crime must be on the horizon, but we are unsure where it will be directed. Under this haze of uncertainty, everyone is both a suspect and a potential victim.

The wedding takes place in an old church. The priest laments the crumbling town, and the party moves to a raucous reception at the family estate. After apparently having a little too much to drink, Laura’s teenage daughter goes to lie down. The power goes out and by the time it’s restored, her daughter is gone.

The rest of the film is a slow unravelling of a woman, her former lover and the family. The past is dug up as everyone is suddenly a suspect. Assumptions are challenged and the veneer of respectability is stripped away. As Laura searches for her daughter, all illusions of happiness and romance fall apart. With one twist after another, the film reaches Shakespearean heights of compounding coincidences and secrets.

Starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows rides heavily on the real-life couple’s chemistry. Both actors have a precise talent at the overwrought melodrama and bring to the screen a deeply rooted desire. The intensity of their respective performances do a lot of the leg work in the film, bringing credibility to its overarching drama. Even though the movie is sexless, the tension burning between them makes this one of the sexiest movies in recent memory.

The emotions run high and the strength of the characterizations really push the film forward. The costuming is rich and lush, and the locations feel homey and lived in. Small details, like having a local priest pause during a wedding to ask for donations, enliven the film with comedy and environmental specificity that are charming and warm. While the film might seem long on paper, running over two hours, it doesn’t really feel its length. The constant twists and turns keep you on your toes.

Yet, the film still falters somewhat under the weight of its twists. The issues of class and masculinity are not fleshed out as a backdrop to the surface-level drama. The world, though rich and beautiful, feels somewhat limited in spite of the attention to detail in storytelling and environment. There is a sincere disconnect between the kidnapping drama and the thematic development of the film’s treatment of social hierarchy, unemployment and gender dynamics. The ideas are thrown into the mix but they are never treated in depth.

Everybody Knows might not reach the same heights as Farhadi’s best films, but it is still worth watching. While flawed, the film channels the energy of a great melodrama and a deep sense of longing. The casting is pitch perfect and while the script might go a bit off the rails, especially in the final act, the movie is swift and entertaining. ■

Everybody Knows opens in theatres on Friday, Feb. 22. Watch the trailer here: