"Everybody Knows" is a crime family drama from Oscar-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. In it, Laura (Penelope Cruz) returns to her home village sans her husband and two kids in tow. It's a huge reunion, and it takes a while to trace who's who, but director Farhadi establishes the charming setting, where everybody knows everybody.
When someone goes missing, the characters become more and more desperate, and "Everybody Knows" exposes the pus of deep-seated secrets and resentment.
Javier Bardem ("Skyfall," "No Country for Old Men") plays Paco, a happily married, successful man who runs a vineyard with his wife, Bea (an impeccable Bárbara Lennie). Bardem's performance travels the range of emotions, and his transformation is intricate and quietly devastating.
"Time gives the wine character and perspective," Paco says, but that doesn't apply to everyone.
Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") as Laura is lovely and matronly. She expertly confuses and communicates here, and you see hints at why she and IRL-hubby Bardem earned their Oscars.
Ricardo Darín as Laura's husband, Alejandro, is sympathetic and stirring with gray hair and light eyes. "My daughter will come back, God will help me," he says, with no action in sight.
Lennie, as Bea, is a grounding voice of reason. She says what you're thinking, yet she's not off the hook as a suspect. No one is, and that's part of the allure here.
Director Farhadi brings the tension. He opens with the clanking of shifting gears in a "Vertigo"-like clock tower. A bird violently flaps it wings, failing to escape through broken glass. Laura's daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is into thrill-seeking and testing limits, and Laura's son Diego (Iván Chavero) wanders in the town square.
There's a buzzing drone flying overhead, and even without the technology, in a small town, everyone's always watching.
Farhadi is a master storyteller, tapping the twisted insides of characters under pressure.
He's done this in "A Separation" and "The Salesman," both Oscars winners for best foreign-language film. As with its predecessors, "Everybody Knows" makes you think.
During a family breakfast, one character insists "The land belongs to whoever tends it."
Another retorts, "Are you going to give it to the day workers?"
It's Farhadi's first Spanish-speaking film, and while it's flowing through different cultures, its themes of classism, religion and surveillance are shown universal.
"Everybody Knows" feels melodramatic, unfolding like a soap opera or novel at times, telling much through expository dialogue. By the time it wrapped, though, this reviewer was into it. It's not for everyone, but the characters, the story and its reflections were worth the experience.
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darín
Writer/director: Asghar Farhadi
Rating: R for some language