Tag: Javier Bardem

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.

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mother!

mumDirector Darren Aronofsky is very comfortable with making sensory arresting films that divide opinion and court controversy.  With many of his films garnering critical appreciation long after release (Pi, The Fountain), some argue that the director is ahead of his time. After the divided response to his latest film, perhaps this will be the case with mother!

Jennifer Lawrence’s character is only known as “mother” (all but one character are named with lowercase initials). She lives in an idyllic country house that she and her husband, Him (uppercase “H”), played by Javier Bardem, are restoring.  It is their personal paradise, of sorts, until one day a man appears at the door and is allowed to stay. The man’s wife arrives soon after—the couple pushing the boundaries of the offered hospitality until they are caught tampering with a forbidden ornament in Him’s out-of-bounds study.  Sound familiar yet? It was to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. I’ve written a thesis on the director, in theory I should know his game backwards, but here the master of the allegorical parable dangled me like a puppet clueless as to why the film’s opening felt so very familiar. It was only after the two arguing sons arrived on the doorstep, that it finally struck me.  This is the Christian story; God, Adam, Eve, Kane, Abel, Jesus, they’re all there. But what of Jennifer Lawrence’s character? Mother Nature is an obvious fit, although there is a suggestion that she is also part of the holy trinity. At one point someone yells “there she is, Inspiration!”—again, an expression of Mother Nature, or as many Christians will tell you, the Holy Spirit.

The film’s final chapter is a head-scratcher. It descends into anarchic chaos and delivers a sensory onslaught that will test the most thick-skinned cinephile. As throngs of people arrive at their house, the claustrophobic camera-work clings to mother, following her everywhere, rarely leaving her porcelain face. The lack of musical score enhances Aronofsky’s brutal vision of humanities ugly side. Thankfully, Aronofsky’s intention appears to be for his audience to read mother! as an allegorical telling of humanity’s failures rather than a literal reading (which would otherwise render it a sick and sadistic torture story).

Towards the end mother pleads with Him, “Please … make them go away!”  And in light of the worlds current political and environmental climate, I can understand her anguish. The film does offer a release valve, an out, an ending that goes beyond its Biblical roots … but I won’t spoil it for you.

mother! may not be for everyone—it requires a great deal of tolerance and a willingness to embrace the unconventional. But put in the effort and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning film that is both an illuminating and damning criticism of the human race.
 

You can see my published reviews here.

Top ten memorable scenes: #2 No Country for Old Men

The coin toss scene with Javier Bardem is perhaps the most talked about scene in the Coen’s excellent No Country for Old Men. As with many films directed by the Coen brothers there are so many superb scenes to choose from. However, the palpable tension in the “waiting in a motel room with a shotgun” scene is by far the most memorable for me. No music, no dialogue … this scene is so tense you could literally hear a pin drop. Again Roger Deakins shows what a master of cinematography he is. I’ll let this excellent scene do the talking. You can see it below: