Everybody Knows That You Love Me, Baby

Mirela Vasileva

In a recent TED talk cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky explained how language shapes the way we think. Speaking in a foreign language thus might have an effect on the way we perceive the world.

So what can we expect from Iranian Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi’s first Spanish-speaking film EVERYBODY KNOWS / TODOS LO SABEN (2018)? In his interviews, he has stated that human problems are universal. So will the deep moral dramas of A SEPARATION / JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN (2011) and THE SALESMAN / FORUSHANDE (2016) find good ground in the motherland of Pedro Almodóvar and Carlos Saura? Or should we get ready for a colorful and emotionally driven melodramatic thriller under the Spanish sun, just like the first act of the film suggests?

EVERYBODY KNOWS opened the Cannes Festival in May and has just screened at the Sarajevo Film Festival within the framework of the Open Air section, with the director himself as a special guest of the festival. EVERYBODY KNOWS is reminiscent of the films of Almodóvar, and not only because of the black eyes of his muse Penélope Cruz but also because of the luscious cinematography of José Luis Alcaine, who shot VOLVER (2006) and THE SKIN I LIVE IN / LA PIEL QUE HABITO (2011)

The film takes us to a picturesque village, where an upcoming wedding is about to bring a family together. Laura (Cruz), the sister of the bride, arrives from Argentina with her two kids, and in the first minutes we are chaotically introduced to the whole family constellation of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. The drone shoot of the wedding seems to be the only chance we have to see the entire picture of all the characters in the film. The colors are bright, the sun is shining, and the atmosphere feels like these romantic comedies about happy people in Tuscany. Among the known and unknown faces there is Paco (Javier Bardem) – Laura’s childhood sweetheart. We never get to know why she had left him years ago to marry an older man from Argentina, but the chemistry between the real-life couple is visible on the screen.

The film starts with a shot of a tower with a broken clock in it, but the real crack is the separation between the two former lovers, whose initials still stay written on the wall. The past is still preoccupying most of the characters’ lives, and for some of them it is hard to deal with what has changed through the years. So, if EVERYBODY KNOWS reminds you of the usual telenovela, it is because in the tradition of the melodrama it has a love story at its heart, some dark and sinister secrets to be revealed, and an “unexpected” plot twist.

The wedding starts, and it is all fun and games until Laura’s daughter Irene disappears. The cheerful celebration turns into a dramatic search party for the missing girl. There is a power blackout, a thunderstorm breaks loose, and the whole atmosphere turns dark. The yellowish-green color scheme from the first quarter of the film gives place to more black and gray. While the family is trapped in the house, like in a claustrophobic setting of an Agatha Christie plot, everyone seems to have a motive and becomes suspect. The days that follow give us a chance to explore the relationships between the family members and their closer friends as well as the workers on the family’s vineyard. The quarrels and mutual accusations that occur bring to light problems from the past like land ownership and class struggles (the first people to blame are the seasonal workers). In the bustle of it all, there is only one person determined to save the girl.

If EVERYBODY KNOWS reminds you of most of Farhadi’s previous films, it is because it revolves around: a missing girl like in ABOUT ELLY / DARBAREYE ELLY (2009), a separation like in A SEPARATION, and the effects of the past on the present like in THE PAST / LE PASSÉ (2013). Unfortunately, the deeper psychological examination of the characters, typical for his earlier works, is not present in the action-driven EVERYBODY KNOWS. The new set-up does not give the chance for exploring the strong moral dilemmas and heartbreaking stories of his previous, Iranian films. At the same time, the typical Spanish problems that are suggested in the script – the dark past, the class differences, the position of impoverished landowners – are only scratched on the surface, and it seems he uses them as décor rather than as motivation to uncover what lies beneath. It is unfortunate that the new horizons that international success have brought to Farhadi are only used to heat up old topics, spiced up with some European flavor.