What happens when you pair a Golden Globe-winning Iranian director who doesn’t speak Spanish with two actors who don’t speak Persian? Golden Globe and two-time Academy Award winner Asghar Farhadi faced just such an artistic challenge when he brought together husband and wife Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in the haunting thriller Everybody Knows, set in a small town in Spain.
Having previously shot The Past in France and A Separation in Iran, Farhadi’s style of working with his actors is pushing beyond language to find the inner machinations of the characters, where they are from and what their feelings are. During an interview with the HFPA in Cannes, the 46-year-old director noted that the key to his communication with Bardem and Cruz, through the use of interpreters, was finding the right mood and the right emotional state for his actors to deliver their performance.
“True they might not understand my language,” he expounds, “but that makes them more sensitive to the melody, the tone and all the other non-verbal aspects of the script. Although I do not speak Spanish, I was aware of each word that had been chosen in the translation and so I knew exactly the material they were working off of.”
As we enter the world of Everybody Knows, we meet Laura (Cruz), who returns from Argentina to her hometown outside of Madrid to attend her sister’s wedding. With her two children in tow, we soon enter a whirlwind assembly of family members and close friends, none more important than Paco (Bardem), a former employee of the family but now landowner and winemaker.
As the jubilation of the marriage takes place – a breathtaking peak into the Spanish cultural symphony of food, wine, and song – Laura’s daughter Irene (Carla Campra) goes missing and the family learns she has been kidnapped. Suspicions fly in many directions as to who is responsible and as the clock ticks away on the abductors' demands, secrets begin to crack the not so perfect facade of the seemingly harmonious community as well as the actual family’s; none more so than the past relationship between Laura and Paco.
Admitting that the story does not come from personal experience, much to his relief, Farhadi instead relied upon observations of the world around him and a few tips of the hat to classic literature. “When members of a family are aware of each other’s secrets, there are levels of information and unresolved feelings that are not expressed,” he continues. “Sometimes they are not shown until a crisis arises and then the resentments come. As I show in this film, once one secret gets revealed, there are many more to follow.”
And in any language, that makes drama.