In a sleepy village in Spain, with a nearby vineyard, there are two things that nobody speaks about, even though (as the film’s title suggests) everybody knows. The first appears in the opening sequence: a selection of old newspaper cuttings that tell of a young child kidnapped. Why they are being freshly cut with a pair of plastic-gloved hands will be revealed in time.
The other piece of local knowledge is that our film’s two main protagonists, Laura (Penélope Cruz) and Paco (Javier Bardem) once were lovers.
So when Laura, who now lives in South America, visits for a family wedding with her two children – young Diego (Iván Chavero) and sassy teenager Irene (Carla Campra) – it is inevitable that Laura and Paco will be in for an ‘interesting’ re-union – especially since Laura’s husband is unable to attend.
Put another way, it’s clear to anyone who has seen Bardem and Cruz act opposite each other: this is going to be a crucible. Paco – who co-owns the vineyard – explains to some students how the difference between grape-juice and wine is simply a question of time. So it is with the slow exposition of this complex story. The un-peeling of an onion would be a better analogy.
First, we have to be introduced to a large number of characters, most of whom centre around Laura’s family. Her aging and grumpy father, her older and wiser sister, her younger soon-to-be-married sister, plus various associated men, including the young man who instantly takes to Irene.
In a whirlwind of wedding celebrations that leave the viewer – if they are not already confused – feeling as drunk as the guests, the hammer-blow occurs when Irene, having over-done the merriment, takes to her bed. Later, Laura discovers she has disappeared. It quickly transpires that she has been kidnapped, and a similar scenario to the opening scene is in play.
If they tell the police, the child will die.
What then follows – if I am being unfair – is a convoluted way of revealing all sorts of family secrets in the name of a whodunit, with the teenage daughter’s absence working as a conduit. By the time all the layers of this bitter onion have been peeled, the script seems concerned only with whether the girl will be rescued, rather than who or why has committed the abduction.
There is a lot to take in, and for many reasons the film is worth a second watch. There are serious nods to Almodovar and Haneke (who wouldn’t fall short of such masters of cinematography and dramaturgy) and, of course, the chemistry between Cruz and Bardem is cinematic gold. Indeed, every actor contributes to the ensemble, and the tension and timing betray the length of the film.
I suspect that, unlike Michael Haneke’s White Ribbon where no amount of re-watching will yield adequate answers, a second viewing of Everybody Knows will clear up any mystery or confusion. Nevertheless, it is a feast for the eyes, so why not go and see it… twice.
The Filmhouse’s programme is available here.