“Everybody Knows,” electric from its opening minutes, features a sad, wistful chemistry between two people — beautifully played by Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz — who once knew home in each other. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
“Everybody knows,” a character comments in Asghar Farhadi’s engrossing drama/thriller of the same title, that Paco (Javier Bardem) and Laura (Penélope Cruz) were once in love, long ago, in the Spanish village where both of them grew up. Laura married and moved far away, to Buenos Aires; now she’s back, with her children but not her husband (who’s at home working), to attend her younger sister’s wedding. And everybody’s watching, particularly Paco’s wary-eyed wife Bea (Barbara Lennie), as the two meet again.
But “Everybody Knows,” electric from its opening minutes, isn’t about quite what you initially think it is. In the happy chaos of the wedding and reception, we see a few ominous signs — dark clouds gathering, the rumbling of the old church bell — and then, tragedy strikes, involving Laura’s teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra). Laura, distraught, turns to Paco for help. From there, like the tick-tock of the old clock we see in the film’s opening moments, the details start piling up: long-held family secrets, still-simmering resentments, dark shadows from the past. “You still haven’t forgiven me,” Laura tells Paco at one point, “for leaving you.” And eventually a bomb is dropped, so quietly I could hear myself gasp, changing everything we knew before.
Farhadi, the Iranian director of the Oscar-winning “The Salesman,” takes his time moving into the meat of the plot; we get to know Laura’s extended family slowly, figuring out the connections, sensing that everyone here has a story that might potentially get told. And there’s a lovely sense, throughout the film, of how real life sometimes interrupts things, the way a child’s prattling disrupts the pretty wedding ceremony, or how even in the midst of grief breakfast must be made.
Though it loses a bit of its power in its final act, “Everybody Knows” is ultimately a gripping and often haunting story of two couples (Laura’s husband Alejandro, played by Ricardo Darin, eventually shows up) haunted by the ghost of a third couple: Paco and Laura, long ago. There’s a sad, wistful chemistry between the characters, beautifully played by Bardem and Cruz (themselves a married couple off-screen) as two people who once knew home in each other. At one point, a spent, broken Laura weeps on Paco’s shoulder, as Bea quietly looks on. Each of them has an expression that’s an entire novel; the kind you might stay up all night reading.
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★★★½ “Everybody Knows,” with Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernandez, Barbara Lennie. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. 132 minutes. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Rated R for some language. Opens March 1 at multiple theaters.