Everybody Knows / The Sisters Brothers August 20, 2019
rian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has an intriguing claim to fame. His movies, typically domestic dramas, are so tense that they feel like thrillers. His latest,
Everybody Knows (2018), makes for an at-first startling change of pace: It’s Farhadi’s first film to be made in the Spanish language, principally with a Spanish cast; it’s also his first to actually be a thriller.
The movie is set in present-day Spain, in a small, picturesque village. We are meant to be a little disconnected from it. The film’s protagonist is Laura (Penélope Cruz), a woman who used to live in the village but now resides in Argentina with her husband and
kids. Her spouse hasn’t come with her.
Bringing Laura to her hometown is the marriage of her sister, Ana (Inma Cuesta). The set-up is classic Farhadi: perhaps the familial dynamic will be more friction-full than immediately meets the eye. And what does it mean when her husband opts not to come, and when the film’s secondary protagonist, a landowner named Paco (Javier Bardem), used to be in a turbulent romantic relationship with Laura? Everybody knows about it, a family member at one point says of Laura and Paco's romantic history; while making mischief in a bell tower, Laura’s uninhibited daughter Irene (Carla Campra) notices “L + P,” with the requisite heart around it, carved into the wall.
Everybody Knows will not get to the murkier aspects of its familial and romantic politics until later in the movie. A kidnapping comes first. A crime like that might at first seem out of the blue. The village is so small; Irene, the victim, doesn’t have connections to anyone or anything too significant. Or so it seems. The way the kidnapping happens is reminiscent of something you would read in an Agatha Christie novel. Irene drinks some spiked wine at the wedding; the electricity goes out for about an hour; and then, when chandeliers get their sparkle back, Irene is nowhere to be found.
Farhadi eventually reveals that Irene was targeted in part because of a land-ownership dispute from years ago. But the filmmaker, up to his old tricks, knows that this isn’t quite as interesting as a late-in-the-movie revelation that Paco is, spoiler alert, Irene’s real father, not the bushy-gray-haired, blue-eyed sulker back home (Ricardo Darím) like most people think. So Farhadi lingers on the thriller stuff mostly peripherally. How might the news impact Paco’s relationship with his wife, Bea (Bárbara Lennie), or Laura’s already-fractured relationship with her current spouse?
The answer comes with some emotional violence. In scenes showing the reactions of both people, though, what we see are clichéd, more-showy-than-sensible ones. Bea’s is a spastic how-could-you-do-this-to-me fit of shrieks; Laura’s husband, it turns out, fits the archetype of the long-suffering husband who actually knows most of his wife’s secrets but has just learned how to live with them. Lennie and Darím are both so terrific in the movie — Lennie a hypnotic feelings-out truth-teller, Darím a palpably sad introvert — that they cover up the fact that what Farhadi gives them to do leans toward the ham-fisted side of things.
Everybody Knows is an obvious, riskless soap opera. Its characters, akin to Bea and the husband, are usually not spelled out in much more than platitudinous terms. Yet it feels like more than the sum of its parts. Farhadi is good at dressing up his drama — the film has a potent, earthy feel to it, all its coming-home emotions clearly felt. And he’s adept at amplifying the touchy-feely strengths of his actors — he particularly knows the power of Cruz and Bardem, among the most visceral of actors. We don’t often dwell on the faults of Everybody Knows — typically we enjoy it as Farhadi’s first quote-unquote thriller. But sometimes we do, and usually they relate to the unnecessarily protracted running time or during scenes dedicated to evincing some of the inner-workings of the land-ownership strife.
Yet the movie’s worth viewing for a couple of reasons, though I suspect one of them isn’t quite so universally appealing. One of them, of course, is the opportunity to see real-life couple Bardem and Cruz, performers who’ve now been together for a celebrity-world eternity, act together. There’s a Mastroianni-Loren-style thrill in seeing them make believe together. The other has to do with a project Cruz and Bardem starred in almost 30 years ago. It was nuts sex comedy called Jamón, Jamón. It’s a far cry from Everybody Knows: in Jamón, Jamón, the characters are all hedonists, and the tone the movie goes for is undoubtedly comic. But it’s fun to pretend that the characters Cruz and Bardem played when they still had baby fat have grown into the characters we meet in Everybody Knows. How things change when not everything revolves around chasing after your pleasures as if they were runaway dogs.
he dog days never seem to end for the title characters of The Sisters Brothers, a shaggy Western written and directed by Jacques Audiard, who's making his English-language debut here. The movie sounds like it
might function mostly as a tired Western potboiler. It’s about a pair of almost-but-not-quite-bumbling outlaw siblings (Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly) who’ve been hired by a mysterious businessman named the Commodore to hunt down and then kill a chemist named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), who is said to have stolen something valuable from him. Sounds duck soup. But then, in the middle of the film, the brothers get into contact with Warm, who’s recently teamed up with a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has what sounds like a mid-Atlantic accent. It’s then that the Sisters brothers realize a couple of things: that the Commodore hasn’t been all that transparent with them and that the shenanigans to which they’ve dedicated a large portion of their lives have begun wearing on then.
The movie is a solid, middle-of-the-road kind of Western, abounding with introspection and existential uncertainty. But it has a welcome sense of humor, too. The eponymous brothers seem ever-aware, throughout the movie, that they’re quite a deal less quick-witted than your average outlaw with an impressive ability to avoid death. Have they been lucky all this time?
Reilly and Phoenix have a Laurel and Hardy-esque rapport that eventually grows poignant when, late in the feature, we learn more about their dedication to one another. And once Gyllenhaal and Ahmed become part of the A plot, the film garners an enjoyable road-movie groove. When the unthinkable strikes, The Sisters Brothers kicks into a higher gear that not only manages to slake our need for typical Western jolts but also helps it end on a rather touching, wistful note — a restorative and maybe unexpected twist for a movie that happens to have a comedy-sketch-show title.
Everybody Knows B
The Sisters Brothers B+