Tag: Asghar Farhadi

Everybody Knows

ekIranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi, maker of quiet but piercing human mysteries (A Separation, The Salesman), has gone once more to the well, yet again painting a portrait of a family under the suffocating chokehold of dark secrets. However, the skill with which he has crafted his latest feature, Everybody Knows, suggests that for Farhadi the well has not yet run dry.

Set in a small rural town near Madrid, Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns to her childhood home to attend her sister’s wedding.  When her teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is kidnapped on the night of the wedding along with a chilling warning against contacting the police, the family gather around to consider their options.

Side-glances and finger-pointing abound as this taut mystery spares few from the merciless gaze of suspicion — as the film’s provocative title implies, Everybody Knows revels in the small-town milieu where no secrets are safe. While the family’s background slowly unfolds (and indeed the mystery of Irene’s whereabouts), the film takes on an almost Agatha Christie tone as the ensemble of agitated characters helplessly mill about exchanging barbed remarks and petty retorts.

Both leads, Cruz and Bardem (who plays her old flame) show their class, giving anguished but balanced performances. Yet what makes this film extraordinary is the seemingly modest way in which it is delivered.  Technically the film appears nondescript, bland even, but closer inspection reveals Farhadi’s very deliberate style. His careful consideration of framing and lighting is a concerted wonder of subtlety and furthermore, the bold decision not to have a musical score only proves to enhance the story’s intrigue.

The result is a film that appears to take pleasure in slow cooking its central puzzle. And as the meat of the mystery slowly falls off the bone it exposes hidden motivations and menacing issues of resentment. Everybody Knows is a slow burn that some might find frustrating but I found the impeccable pace of this intriguing mystery immensely satisfying.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Salesman

Much was made of The Salesman’s nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year.  The film’s Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), stated that he would not attend the ceremony due to Donald Trump’s executive order barring Iranians from entering in U.S., and upon winning, his prepared speech was instead read by proxy. Unfortunately, much of its sting was deflated due to the best picture announcement debacle, but it still raises questions over Farhadi’s Oscar nod being a protest vote. Some anti Trump sentiment by the voting Academy perhaps?  We’ll never know, and all I can offer is a critique of the film on it own merits.

Set in Tehran, a middle-class couple Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) are forced from their apartment due to construction faults.  The opening scene that depicts the building’s imminent collapse is tense and superbly sets the film’s tone; clinically stark, devoid of warmth or any musical score and working within a very drained palette — a style that appears to be straight out of the Michael Haneke handbook (Amour, Funny Games). It is a stunning opening sequence nonetheless and works to facilitate the film’s brooding atmosphere and sense of tension.  The couple eventually find alternative accommodation, but only too late do they discover its previous tenant to be a prostitute who had unsavoury customers calling in at all hours. One night Rana buzzes open the door thinking that it must be her husband.  Big mistake. Her assault and the pursuit of the assailant brings about a captivating mystery that ends with an unexpected (if somewhat drawn-out) ending.

Unfortunately, the film presents a nagging problem throughout. In their spare time Rana and Emad are members of a theatre group who are putting on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. There appears to be an assumption by Farhadi that the viewer has seen or read Millar’s play, which for me, has since been lost in the foggy memory of my final year at high school. Yet, it is obvious that the role Millar’s play has within the story is an important one, as is evident in the film’s title and most likely forms some sort of subtext that was unfortunately lost on me. Despite this, I found The Salesman a refreshing and taut mystery and perhaps a more informed critique might be offered if only I could remember that damn play … I blame my seventh form teacher.

You can see the published review here.