Asghar Farhadi, known for his textured Iranian dramas including the Oscar-winning “A Separation,” explores new terrain, with lesser but still satisfying results, in “Everybody Knows,” a starry, Spanish-language thriller.
The film, opening Friday at the Embarcadero, combines a kidnap plot with the kind of family-crisis story at which Farhadi excels. His familiar themes of family, marriage and class are here. So, more than ever, is the melodrama.
A ticking clock leads things off. In a picturesque village in her native Spain, Laura (Penelope Cruz) arrives from Argentina to attend her sister’s wedding. Her two kids accompany her. Her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin), has stayed home for job-related reasons.
At the family estate are countless relatives along with open-hearted friend Paco (Javier Bardem), who operates a small vineyard with his warier wife, Bea (Barbara Lennie). “Everybody knows” Laura and Paco were in love as teenagers, Paco’s nephew, Felipe (Sergio Castellanos), informs Laura’s 16-year-old daughter, Irene (Carla Campra).
During the wedding reception, an overhead drone films the revelry, and the film possibly enters Michael Haneke territory. Irene disappears. A threatening ransom note follows.
Farhadi’s busy screenplay puts forth numerous possibilities as the characters, led by Paco, try to determine who kidnapped Irene. Laura worries about the hefty ransom. Alejandro isn’t as rich as people believe.
When Alejandro, who’s arrived from Argentina, proves ineffectual, Laura increasingly turns to Paco for take-charge assistance and emotional support. Gossip surrounding the pair starts.
The ordeal fractures the family, with fingers pointed at everyone from the grape pickers to Alejandro. Pent-up animosities, some directed at Paco and relating to land, surface.
As a kidnap thriller, the movie is so-so. Supplying a tiresome excess of red herrings, Farhadi doesn’t display his usual dexterity piecing together the plot. The whodunit and vanished-girl mystery lack the suspense such ingredients generated in Farhadi’s “The Salesman” and “About Elly,” respectively. The resolution is weak.
But as the crime counts less than the human realities it exposes, the domestic drama — despite being thickly soapy and lacking the textural richness of Farhadi’s other movies — outshines the kidnap plot.
While a dynamic female protagonist is missing — Farhadi could have given Laura, and the capable Cruz, something to do besides cry and lean on Paco — the filmmaker again shows his way with an undercurrent. Familial discontent, personal resentment, class friction and romantic feelings simmer and emerge.
Farhadi compellingly depicts a family in crisis and illustrates how tenuous a seemingly solid domestic bond can be.
Real-life partners Cruz and Bardem give their characters electricity and a natural intimacy. Bardem, playing the most developed character, keeps the humanity flowing.
But Darin, the excellent Argentinean actor playing Alejandro, deserves more screen time.
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Barbara Lennie
Written and directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes