Film Review: EVERYBODY KNOWS (Todos lo Saben) (Spain/France/Italy 2018) ***

Todos lo saben Poster

Laura, a Spanish woman living in Buenos Aires, returns to her hometown outside Madrid with her two children to attend her sister’s wedding. However, the trip is upset by unexpected events that bring secrets into the open.


Asghar Farhadi

Two time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi’s (A SEPARATION, THE PAST) latest and one of his weakest entries shows the Iranian director treading water in familiar territory.  The popular  saying ‘we have all see it before’ hails true.

A SEPARATION and THE PAST, Farhadi’s two best films shows family drama about broken relationships told in the form of a whodunit.  The opposite is recognizable in EVERYBODY KNOWS.  Who, close to the family planned the kidnapping of the teen daughter?  The kidnapping is an excuse for the family drama that unfolds which also reveals a skeleton in the closet for the audience but one that all the characters in the story already know – hence the film title EVERYBODY KNOWS.

The film begins with the arrival from Argentina to Spain of Laura (Penelope Cruz) and her two children for her sister’s wedding.  During the wedding, there is an electricity blackout during which teen daughter Irene (Carla Camra) is drugged and kidnapped.  The rest of the film functions as the whodunit until Irene is finally set free at the end of the film.

It turns out that a ransom is to be paid and Paco (Javier Barden), a family friend has the access of funds to pay the ransom.   The EVERYBODY KNOWS secret is that Paco and Laura had an affair in the past though Laura is married  now to Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) who is conveniently not around  so that the two can rekindle their past passions.  It also turns out that Irene is Paco’s daughter which serves more incentive for him to get the money to pay off the ransom.  There is even more unnecessary drama not entirely related to the plot.  Irene is a feisty girl who wants to elope with a handsome local teen.

Farhadi has gained the reputation of directing films in a language he cannot speak like Spanish in this Spanish entry or French in THE PAST.  This must surely not be an asset though the director has done pretty well in the past.  He now appears to glide through films in different countries like a tourist.  EVERYBODY KNOWS looks like a tourist ad for Spain with its sunny weather and gorgeous vineyards.

The film boasts stars Bardem and Cruz, a big boost for Farhadi as his films never had the privilege of such big internationally known stars before.  But Cruz is quite awful transforming from happy and cheery celebrating her sister’s wedding and reuniting with friends to worried and howling mother after her daughter is kidnapped.  Bardem fares better as the rough bohemian love interest.  (Cruz and Bardem are real life wife and husband.)

The film ends up more a successful family drama and less a satisfying whodunit.  The guilty kidnappers are revealed at the end, and they seem to get away with the deed while the poor victimized family continue to suffer.

The film opened the Cannes competition in 2018 and has so far received so-so favourable reviews from critics.


THE SALESMAN (Iran/France 2016) ****

the_salesman_poster.jpgDirector: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi

Review by Gilbert Seah

Winner of the Best Script and Best Actor (Shahab Hosseini) prizes at 2016 Cannes,THE SALESMAN, the third film from the Iranian director of UNE SEPARATION and LE PASSE once again deals with domestic problems of a husband and wife in a suspense whodunit Hitchcockian setting.
Rana (Tararne Alidoosti) and her high-school teacher husband Emad (Hosseini) have moved quickly into their new apartment after an earthquake deemed their last place too dangerous to live. At the new place, just before going into the shower, Rana buzzes someone up thinking the person to be her husband. A stranger turns up in the bedroom. Rana ends up in hospital with bruises. The husband seeks revenge. In whodunit style, he traces keys and cellphone to the person responsible. The last 20 minutes has Emad confronting the perpetuator with unexpected results.

THE SALESMAN of the film title refers to the Pulitzer Wining 1949 Arthur Miller play, DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Emad is in a current production of the play with him playing the main character of the salesman, Willy with Rana playing the wife. There are of course parallels between the play and Emad’s real life. Both Willy and Emad seek the perfect life (as Willy in Miller’s play searches the American Dream), but fate hands out a different deck of cards. When Emad faces the man who committed the crime, a hidden crisis in his marriage relationship resurfaces – and he has to deal with it.

Unlike Farhadi’s other two films, THE SALESMAN moves at a slower pace and has more hidden agenda. Things are not what they seem. For one, the wife is a bundle of contradictions. She wants her husband to spend more time at home, but she wants personal solitude. When the husband finds the culprit, she wants the husband to let him go.

Farhadi also deals out slices of Iranian life in his film. The audience gets to see how the people live in Tehran where the story is set. The evacuation at the film’s start show how Iranians live. They take care of their disabled family members. The perpetuator’s family that show up at the end of the film depict the strong bond of Iranian family culture. One segment in Emad’s classroom reflects what the school system is like – and humorously. In one funny scene, a fat student quizzes Emad how possible it is in a literature text for a man to turn into a cow, only to be commented by a fellow pupil if he had recently looked into the mirror.

What is also immediately noticeable about Farhadi’s filming is his camera placement. At the film’s start, the stationary camera captures effectively the mayhem of the building evacuation. From the camera behind a window, a bulldozer can be seen. The climax of the film has the camera placed so that the characters move into the frame where the entire action then takes place.

At the end of the film,when the audience sits back to consider the consequences of the incidents that have unfolded on screen, one realizes that the impact is on the individual. The culprit is not sent to jail and the husband has not punished the wife’s attacker. The film leaves an open ending on how the revelation of events affect each character in the story. And his is what makes Farhadi’s film stand out.

THE SALESMAN has been nominated for the Academy award for Best Foreign Language Film. Director Farhadi has announced that he will not attend the ceremonies because of President’s Trump controversial travel ban.


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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: THE SALESMAN (Iran/France 2016) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

the_salesman_poster.jpgTHE SALESMAN (Iran/France 2016) ***
Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Karimi

Review by Gilbert Seah

Can Asghar Farhadi ever make a bad movie? His first UNE SEPARATION won the Oscar for Best Foreign film and his latest THE SALESMAN won the Best Screenplay and Best Actor prizes at Cannes this year.

The title comes from the Arthur Miller play DEATH OF A SALESMAN that the protagonist, a high-school teacher is putting up. His wife has just been assaulted in the shower by a stranger and the husband wants revenge. Obviously there is a parallel between the characters in the Miller play and the film.

Director Farhadi always injects a dose of suspense in his films, Hitchcock style no matter what the premise of the film is. Like a Hitchcock film, the climax reveals all, and is unexpected. But the prize performance belongs to Babak Karimi who plays the assaulter.

Lots of detective work done by the husband to discover the assaulter which should delight Hitchcock fans. But the film contains a few too many unrelated incidents that could have been left out- like the evacuation of the building at the film’s start.


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