Everybody Knows (2018)

Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Country: Spain / France / Italy

The work of some distinguished directors loses the charm and often the focus when they operate in a different cultural milieu. This syndrome seems to have caught Iranian master Asghar Farhadi, who gave us gems like About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), and The Salesman (2016). Sad to say he stains his filmography with Nobody Knows, a fictional thriller set in Spain that unfolds monotonously and only sporadically piques our interest. Orienting a luxurious cast that includes Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin, Farhadi failed to provide startles and thrills, relying solely on the dramatic side of things to impress. But even that factor was disastrous as he tiresomely attempts to suggest connections between the past and the present.

The film starts by capturing some newspaper clippings that reveal the disappearance of a little girl named Carmen. When Laura (Cruz) arrives at her small, picturesque hometown with their three children to attend her sister’s wedding, she couldn’t imagine she had been already chosen as an indirect target for something similar. In recent years, she has been living in Buenos Aires, where her architect husband, Alejandro (Darin), remained due to work commitments.

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The wedding’s festivities suddenly turn into a river of tears when Laura’s teen daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), disappears mysteriously. She had been kidnapped while resting in her room and the ransom is 30 thousand euros. Obviously, there was a mole at the party and the kidnappers can be either family or friends. Jorge (José Ángel Egido ), a retired policeman who acts as he knows all the answers, studies possible motives and tries to find a logic for the puzzle.

All the same, the only one with the financial means to resolve the imbroglio is Paco (Bardem), Laura’s former lover, who is well established as a local vineyard owner. Intriguingly, Paco’s wife, Bea (Bárbara Lennie), receives the same warnings from the kidnappers. Secrets are unveiled slowly and unsavorily, while the drama becomes a disorganized spiral of affective manipulations.

Farhadi keeps on working family themes, but with a voice that lacks articulation. He brings a bit of Almodovar during the colorful party and the dramatic flair of Susanne Bier, but everything is inconsistently pasted with a melodramatic television air. There’s little to differentiate this film from other generic drama-thrillers out there, and even if the images shine bright, they were not enough to make Everybody Knows glittering like gold. To tell the truth, this was more of a pale experience that puts Farhadi under pressure for his next move.

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The Salesman (2016)

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Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Country: Iran / France

Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian writer-director with a knack for profound dramas (“About Elly”, “A Separation”, “The Past”), returns with “The Salesman”, another heartfelt story branded with uncomfortable dualities. The nature of this tale, set and shot in Tehran, will make you ponder about what’s right and wrong, and confront you with a few moral questions that bear on justice, compassion, forgiveness, and retaliation.

Emad (Shahab Hosseini) is a well-liked teacher who shares a huge passion for theater with his wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti). They star in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman”, putting every drop of inspiration on their roles. Even in the play, they are husband and wife, impersonating Willy and Linda Loman.
The building where they live is about to collapse due to adjacent construction and structural deficiencies, forcing them to an immediate evacuation. With no place to go, they accept the help of a fellow actor, Babak (Babak Karimi), who finds them an apartment that just got unoccupied. The woman who lived there before had a bad reputation. She left all her belongings in the apartment due to some last-minute difficulties.

One night, while Rana was bathing, someone rings the buzz. Convinced it was Emad, who had left minutes before to go to the neighboring supermarket, she opens the door and returns to the bathroom. To her surprise, she’s violently assaulted by a stranger who, on the run, left a pair of socks on the floor, some money, and his car keys in the apartment.
Rana was taken to the hospital, returning emotionally debilitated, yet unwilling to report the case to the police. Not even the theater seems to help her to overcome the situation. However, little by little, she starts giving signs of recovery.

In turn, for better and for worse, Emad keeps trying to identify the offender through the pickup he left outside, elaborating a plan to have his revenge.
The final part brings revelations and resolutions that lead to a whirlwind of internal conflicts and emotions.

As habitual, Farhadi settles on a ferocious realism conveyed through a credible acting, intelligent narrative simplicity, and mordant irony. He became a true master in this nuanced passive-aggressive style.
The performances of Hosseini and Alidoosti, Farhadi’s frequent and reliable choices, are irreproachable as they were in previous works.
The Salesman” might not be as striking as “The Separation”, since it’s a slightly more manipulative, but is a powerful piece of cinema that authenticates Farhadi as the most predominant contemporary Iranian filmmaker.