Photo Courtesy © Memento Films
The wisdom goes, “the truth shall set you free,” and rarely is this maxim challenged. To that end, few films have challenged the age-old saying as much as “Everybody Knows (Todos Lo Saben),” Asghar Farhadi’s Spanish drama about an eventful Spanish wedding where all of the skeletons come out of the closet in the midst of a terrible tragedy. The film, which made its regional premiere at the Austin Film Festival this weekend, goes to great lengths to exalt the value of family in its early scenes, playing out hushed tension amid perhaps the most glorious of wedding scenes. It’s hard to deny that it’s a wedding, a town, and a family for which any viewer would seek an invitation.
But, like any family dynamic, it’s the quiet moments that foreshadow a dread to come, and when the wedding takes a late night turn, the film uses that lever to reveal long-standing bitterness, feuds over money and land and the petty jealousies and perceptions that come with most extended families. The plot device – a trauma visited upon the happiest celebration – draws predictably phenomenal performances from the two lead actors, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Cruz, for her part, plays a very real mother figure with a past, who is, at once, defiantly strong when it comes to running her family, but infinitely vulnerable when confronted with a child in harm’s way. It’s a side of her that many of her tentpole and marquee blockbuster appearances sacrifice in favor of the bombshell heartthrob Cruz has remained throughout her career. She expresses her pain and fury, alternately throughout the film with vivid force.
Conversely, Bardem’s performance is incredible in its subtlety. This film reveals Bardem at his most tortured, albeit never outwardly. He is resigned, moving unsure throughout the film, until near the end when his Paco is visited by secrets kept from him, contempts finally revealed, and the impossible choices his path constantly shepherds him toward.
By no means do the lead actors dominate the entire film, as one never feels removed from this family, save for when – for exposition’s sake – a stand-in for a detective makes his way to the screen. And, it is when one is within the family that the barbs and scars make the most impact on the viewer. Though perhaps more familiar to those who know or carry in their blood the hot Spanish temper, the family figures presented are all familiar and hauntingly precise. The gossip shared around the family and the town, but never overtly stated, is the villain of the film, leaving the characters to be grey, fallible, and all too human.
Shot throughout Spain, one is enchanted by the constant barrage of beauty and history, as Farhadi takes full advantage of the Spanish countryside and the cobbled streets of the ancient parts of the European world. But, he is clear to point out with the final act, those veneers hide the most vicious of wounds, whether old, weathered, and unhealed or newly delivered. What remains at the end of the film isn’t likely a feeling of freedom, but it certainly has a lot to say about the value of truth, for good, for ill, and for great filmmaking.