Sparks Fly On-Screen Between Real-Life Couple Penelope Cruz & Javier Bardem in ‘Everybody Knows’

'Everybody Knows' image courtesy of TIFF

Real life couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem share the silver screen in Asghar Farhadi’s new film, Todos lo saben (Everybody Knows), but their characters’ relationship is a little more complicated than the movie first lets on. In the movie, Laura (Cruz) returns home for her sister’s wedding. Among the many relatives and well-wishers, her former lover and longtime best friend, Paco (Bardem), joins the festivities, which includes a long church service and a rowdy late-into-the-night party. But the friendly – somewhat flirty – reunion is short-lived when Laura’s daughter is kidnapped in the middle of the wedding, setting off a panic throughout the family and unearthing old secrets.

It’s obvious from the trailer that there’s chemistry between Cruz and Bardem’s characters. They share an unspoken familiarity that years and miles have not yet tarnished. The story eventually reveals that the pair were once old friends from childhood, with Paco the son of workers for Laura’s family. Their class differences eventually made it impossible for Laura’s family to accept Paco, and their old prejudices return when the kidnapping occurs. Her family suspects he may have done it for revenge for ending their relationship or to get money from Laura’s husband, which is another issue entirely.

As Laura, Cruz plays a complex figure stuck between the panic of losing her daughter, the pressure to deal with the kidnappers’ demands and the leftover drama between her family and Paco. At the start of Everybody Knows, she looks excited to be traveling home with her kids and rekindles her comfortable rapport with Paco. When tragedy strikes, she leans on him heavily, which draws unsavory comments from relatives on both sides.

After the dissolution of her relationship with Paco when they were younger, Laura ended up marrying an architect, Alejandro (played by the Argentine actor Ricardo Darín ), and moved with her new husband to Argentina. A divide grew between her and her family, which was only filled with more secrets, like Alejandro’s struggles with addiction and his recent unemployment. Her family in Spain assumed she was happy and reluctant to visit when in actuality, Laura was trying to save money where she could.

To meet Cruz’s tortured performance as a mother in crisis, Bardem channels a quiet, reserved performance as a man consumed with finding the truth and rescuing his ex’s daughter. The many twists and turns in the story further complicate his involvements in the case, but there’s such dedication in his eyes, even those who suspect him start to retreat. His steady performance contrasts against screaming matches and tears, helping the movie avoid telenovela-levels of melodrama. In one tense confrontation, Laura’s dad digs up an old complaint that his daughter had sold her land to him at a low price out of pity for their relationship’s demise. Paco silently takes the old man’s rage in stride and walks out to continue the search for the man’s granddaughter. Despite his obvious devotion to Laura, Paco is married and seemingly moved on with his wife to start a farm of their own. This too becomes another conflict in story heavy with petty grudges and heartaches.

For years, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has specialized in these kinds of taut family dramas that touch on betrayal, class differences, and family blood feuds. His 2009 thriller About Elly was about the disappearance of a rich family’s babysitter while on vacation. Like Everybody Knows, About Elly explored the old tensions between the haves and the have-nots but also the kind of stress families experience when something so life-altering disturbs their routines. Both movies also start on happier notes – Elly finds the families and sitter on vacation and Everybody begins with a raucous wedding – before tragedy strikes and arguments about coping with the events follow. Farhadi’s collaboration with Cruz and Bardem adds an extra dimension of celebrity and intrigue to his work. The script and direction make the experience of watching the film just as anxiety-inducing as his Oscar-winning films, The Salesman and A Separation. Overall, Everybody Knows brings out some of Cruz and Bardem’s best performances in recent memory.

Everybody Knows played the Toronto International Film Festival.