Last night’s opening ceremony, which was shown to the press corps via simulcast in the Debussy theater, was pure joy, especially if you speak French. French film and theater actor Edouard Baer emceed the event with ironic bonhomie and a piano player who accompanied him as he delivered a spoken-word-style love letter to cinema and to humanity at large. With Anna Karina, the actress from “Pierrot le fou,” (this year’s poster depicts a scene from that movie) watching him in the audience, he played short clips from the film and entertained the audience with quips.
Per the Cannes Festival’s recent directive, selected films will be launched into the world under the watchful eye of cast and filmmaker. Whether our diagnosis of a movie is positive, or bad, the press, its wings clipped, doesn’t get first dibs anymore at discovering the official selection. Red-carpet premieres truly will be, in a film’s life, a premiere, from now on. The impact on most of us, however, will be minimal, likely, but live radio and TV reporters will feel the brunt of the policy change.
In the Asghar Farhadi-directed “Everybody knows,” tragic events ruin what should’ve been an otherwise happy moment, that of a couple getting married. Laura (Penelope Cruz) and her children travel from Buenos Aires to Spain to attend her sister’s wedding in a hacienda set in bucolic vineyards tended to by Paco (Javier Bardem), a one-time flame of Laura’s. The wedding is postcard-perfect and everyone knows the lyrics to the same songs. Laura’s father Antonio (played by Ramon Barea) drinks too much and his age-wise rictus, becomes a scowl as the night wears on. Here, Farhadi, a master of the dramatic genre, shows off his comedy chops. After Antonio has had enough of the merriment, he plops down in his Easy Climber, headed for his room. Except that, the Easy Climber gets stuck. And what’s funnier than an old scowling drunk missing his exit by getting stuck in an Easy Climber? Besides this brief bout of comedic relief, the themes of “Everybody” seem to be youthful restlessness, a woman’s secrets and the past, always the past, ready to collide at any moment with the present.
In and of its own, “Everybody knows” is a highly-watchable drama that is sure to do well in movie theaters, given its many bold-faced names. And I’m always in awe of filmmakers who manage to think up, and write, a movie script and draw enough inspiration and ambition to see it to completion. Farhadi can sure write a decent script, that’s his shtick. But when I first found out that “Everybody” was shot in Spain, with that country’s top actor pair, Cruz-Bardem, starring in it, I wondered, why? I worried that the “iranianness” of Farhadi’s characters wouldn’t travel well (what that Iranianness is could fill up a whole article). But, previously with Farhadi’s “The Past,” shot in France, and now, “Everybody Knows,” the viewer is left in want of Asgharian drama, that mysterious ingredient that we’ve grown to expect.
Laura, Paco and Alexandro aren’t moved by the same spirit that moved the characters in the aforementioned movies. The ominous psychosocial dramas that have earned Farhadi his stripes don’t travel well, apparently. Golshifteh Farahani, Leila Hatami, they conveyed something that just wasn’t there in “Everybody.” Under Farhadi’s guiding hand, Penelope Cruz, an actress who has managed to subdue her distractingly good looks by delivering great performances, whimpers and laments her way through what is the worst tragedy besetting a mother.
Darin, le magnifique, who plays her husband, and has to travel to Spain after the bad news is announced to him, plays somewhere between forlorn and sheepish, absent the familiar twinkle of cleverness in his eyes. At one point in the movie, when the family fails to find a resolution, Alejandro (Darin), all but abandoning himself to growing despair, says something to the effect that god will show them the way. But a good performance can show abandoning oneself to despair convincingly. Not the case here.
At this point I thought, can God show you how to act? But the proverbial problem that besets the choice of a cast, the pairing up of a filmmaker and actors and actresses, is on display here. Under the supervision of filmmaker A, an actor will thrive. That same actor won’t inspire or impress when working with another filmmaker.
Three stars (out of 5)