In Everybody Knows, director Asghar Farhadi leaves Iranian stresses behind (cf., A Separation, The Past, and The Salesman) for a more Eurocentric story. His previous films focus on people dealing with the tensions between two cultures. This film is a more conventional story, which although it is adequately done, doesn’t have the same thought-provoking quality of his earlier work.
Laura (Penélope Cruz) has returned to her hometown in Spain from Argentina with her two children for a family wedding. It is a time of joyous reunions. She and her children reacquaint themselves with family and friends. Perhaps her teenage daughter Irene is attracted to one of the local boys, but it’s all seems fairly innocent. It also seems fairly innocent that her former lover Paco (Javier Bardem) is a close family friend and part of the wedding preparations. Both Paco and Laura are both happily married, but their past will never go away.
The film takes its time setting this joyous and celebrative mood. The possibilities of romance hang in the air, but suddenly it all changes. During the wedding reception, Irene doesn’t feel good and goes to her room. When Laura goes to look in on her, the door is locked, and when they finally get it open, she is gone. Soon there is a message from kidnappers warning them not to tell the police. Is this a professional job or has it been done by someone close?
The family struggles to come up with the ransom. It is assumed that Laura’s husband has the money, but they have fallen on hard times. Paco starts rumors that he might sell his wine business, to make it seem that he might pay the ransom. But that brings up old wounds between him and Laura’s family over how he came to own the land. In time more secrets and old grievances will come to light. And often, as the title suggests, these are rather open secrets.
Although it fits into the thriller genre, it’s not the kind of film that gives viewers a bump in adrenaline. Rather the tensions are more personal. It is more about how each person faces the situation. Laura frets and has a hard time coping or making decisions. Paco takes action, but seems to be a bit more invested than one might expect from an old flame. Laura’s husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) continues to believe that God will help. That stance of faith seems to be escapist, but it reflects his experience of God’s help in his life. But it may also block him from accepting help that may come from others. (Can’t God help through other people?)
The film never quite fully explores the tensions between characters. That has been Farhadi’s strength in previous films. So what we get may work at a basic level, but doesn’t deliver the kind of experience those who know his work will expect.