About The Production
After a decades-long career featuring such Oscar-winning films as A Separation
and The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi has earned a reputation as a master filmmaker,
a supremely gifted storyteller whose innate understanding of the human condition
suffuses every new work. His astonishing eighth feature is no exception. An
expertly crafted thriller that served as the opening night film for the 71st
Festival de Cannes, EVERYBODY KNOWS (Todos lo saben) centers on a family in
small-town Spain plunged into crisis light in the wake of a terrifying
It begins with a celebration-the wedding of Ana and Joan. The occasion has drawn
Ana's older sister Laura (Penelope Cruz) back to her childhood home town, a
scenic Spanish village where the pace of life moves slowly and all the residents
are well acquainted. Laura's husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin), has remained
behind in Buenos Ares on business. Instead, Laura is accompanied by her young
son and her headstrong teenage daughter, Irene, whose unbridled zest for life
catches the eye of the nephew of Laura's old flame, Paco (Javier Bardem).
Although Paco is now happily married to Bea (Barbara Lennie), Irene learns that
he and her mother were once very much in love.
For the villagers, Laura's past with Paco is hardly a secret. Quite simply,
On the night of the wedding, a blackout interrupts the joyful reception. Shortly
after, Laura discovers that Irene has vanished. As Laura becomes hysterical with
worry, untraceable text messages begin to arrive, threatening that great harm
will come to the girl should anyone contact the authorities and demanding a
significant ransom-a sum that Laura and Alejandro cannot afford to pay.
Desperate, Laura turns to Paco as a source of strength and support. By the time
Alejandro travels to the village to assist in the search for his daughter, old
wounds have reopened, and loved ones have started to turn on one another with
accusations of deception and blackmail. All the while, Irene's life hangs in the
Clandestine relationships, jealous rivalries, little slights that can grow into
grievous injuries with the passage of time-it's all rich territory for Farhadi,
an artist who for years has been driven to explore the many complexities and
contradictions of the human psyche across continents and cultures. For years,
his native Iran served as the setting for most of his best known and admired
films, but with 2013's The Past, he traveled to Europe for a somber divorce
drama set in France. EVERYBODY KNOWS sees him push his creative boundaries once
more with a film that is both ticking clock mystery and a compelling exploration
of a family at a crossroads told entirely in Spanish.
The Spanish setting was an integral part of the project since its inception
nearly 15 years ago. The idea took hold in Farhadi's imagination during a visit
to the south of Spain, when he noticed photos of a missing child, the subject of
a frantic search, affixed to the walls of local buildings.
"I had the first spark for my intrigue, and I kept it in mind over the years,"
the filmmaker says. Initially, the tale took the form of a short story, but as
Farhadi continued to turn the plot over in his mind, it gradually assumed the
contours of a screenplay.
Four years ago, he began to work on the project in earnest, refining the themes
at its core and bringing the relationships among all the characters-but
especially Laura and Paco-into ever sharper focus. Starring as the former lovers
are two of the most lauded actors working today: Academy Award winners Penelope
Cruz (2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Javier Bardem (2007's No Country for
Old Men). "The two main roles were written for Penelope and Javier," says
Farhadi. "I've been speaking to them about the screenplay for years. They are
both very gifted actors, but also profoundly human. And our relationship now
goes beyond our professional collaboration."
Farhadi originally had approached Cruz to star in The Past, but family
obligations prevented her from signing on to the project (she and Bardem married
in 2010 and they were expecting a child). Cruz and Farhadi remained in touch,
however, and when he began to tease out the story for EVERYBODY KNOWS, he
consulted her about her thoughts on his Spain-set thriller and the complicated
woman at its heart.
Although Cruz's nearly unrivalled resume stretches back decades and features
outstanding performances in both Hollywood productions and Spanish-language
films, Laura was one of the most challenging characters she's ever portrayed.
"Laura is a very special woman who's been through a lot," Cruz says. "She has
had to make some difficult decisions involving other people, and that weighs on
her. We all carry the burden of our experiences and traumas, some of us more
than others. Laura is a woman with a secret, and suddenly she finds herself
faced with a crisis. This situation leads her into revealing her secret and
thereby unleashing a host of things that she'd struggled to keep buried."
"What he wanted to tell through this story was interesting to me," Cruz adds.
"In one way, this family is a sort of metaphor for what is going on around us.
Like in the poem by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi-which I came across a few weeks
into filming thanks to another Iranian friend- it says that if one member of a
family is suffering, then all the others suffer, too. For me, the essence of the
film is in this poem. When I spoke to Asghar about it he told me that this same
poem meant a great deal to him."
Like Cruz, Bardem has built a reputation as a tremendously accomplished actor
who can convey both empathy and extreme menace, as evidenced by his
unforgettable performances in films from 2004's The Sea Inside to 2012's Skyfall.
He, too, eager to work with Farhadi, signed on to star in EVERYBODY KNOWS early
on-after a brief meeting with the filmmaker and reading only a portion of an
early draft of the script.
"I really liked the story, the atmosphere and particularly the relationships
between the characters," Bardem says. "Paco is a man living in a village, even
if he has contact with the city. He's worked hard to get to where he is. At the
opening of the film, he feels fulfilled in his personal and professional life.
But then something happens that makes all sorts of demands upon him:
psychological, emotional, physical, as well as ethical, and causing his life to
"I like the character," Bardem adds. "As the great Victoria Abril said, as
actors we have to defend our characters rather than judge them, otherwise we're
not doing our job. That said, sometimes there will be characters who make you
uncomfortable. But that's not the case here. It's like Ramon Sampedro in The Sea
Inside or Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls-characters I remember fondly.
Paco is like that. There's a light about him, a glow, a simplicity which is akin
to a certain type of wisdom. He's a down-to-earth soul, full of common sense."
In the vital third role of Laura's husband Alejandro is respected Argentine
actor Ricardo Darin, who came to EVERYBODY KNOWS after bonding with Farhadi over
a shared appreciation for Ingmar Bergman. Whereas Paco is a self-made man from
modest means, Alejandro is a wealthy man fallen on hard times yet sustained by
his love for his family and his unwavering religious conviction.
"Alejandro used to be well-off but things have changed," Darin says of his
character. "He's lost his job and is as good as broke, but it seems that when he
did have money, he did a lot to help the village where his wife Laura is from.
He can't go to the wedding of Laura's sister and stays in Buenos Aires to look
for work, go to interviews, and try to find a way out of this dead-end. When he
hears what happened on the evening of the wedding, he heads to Spain to try not
only to help but also to keep control."
Once Darin was cast, Farhadi tailored the role to better suit the actor.
"Ricardo's character was not meant to be Argentinian," says the writer-director.
"He was an American character travelling in Spain. But, if we'd gone with the
American character, the film would have been in two languages: English and
Spanish. I preferred using just one and that the characters share a common
language. So instead of North America, I thought rather of South America, and
more particularly of Argentina. And Ricardo is one of the best South American
actors. He's an honest and simple man who gives you the impression of having
known him for years. Ricardo helped us with everything to do with Argentinian
culture so that we were as close to reality as possible."
Since his 2002 feature film debut Dancing in the Dust, authenticity has been a
hallmark of Farhadi's work, and for EVERYBODY KNOWS, he once again sought to set
an affecting interpersonal drama against the backdrop of a fully realized world.
He understood that capturing the nuances of life in a Spanish village would
require a certain amount of anthropological
exploration. So, as he continued to refine the script, he made several trips to
the country, observing with an artist's eye the everyday rhythms of small-town
"This story had to take place in a village," Farhadi says "It's about human
relations between villagers. Their relationships are not the same as those of
city dwellers. In a village, people are closer. People know each other, and that
has fuelled my story. If it had taken place in a city, people would not have
these relationships with each other. It would have been another film. The
characters of the film, whilst being caught up in a complicated situation, are
simple beings. Placing the protagonists in a village reinforced this
Farhadi wrote scenes in Farsi, which were then translated into Spanish by
interpreter Massoumeh Lahidji. A respected expert in her field, Lahidji
previously worked with Farhadi on The Past, and he describes her as someone so
well acquainted with his writing style that her translation hewed closely to
what he had set out in his native language. "The goal was to convey in Spanish
what we felt through the Persian words," says the writer-director.
When a final draft was nearing completion, Farhadi sought out additional
feedback from several Spanish associates. "When I finished writing the
screenplay in Farsi, I gave it to some friends living in Spain," he says.
"Friends who didn't work in cinema, but who were movie fans, and also cinema
professionals-directors, actors, etc. I gathered all their opinions. The first
question I asked them was whether they felt that the story was being told by a
non-Spaniard. And the closer we got to the final version, the more they thought
that the story was becoming completely Spanish."
Bardem says he was profoundly struck when reading Farhadi's script by the fact
that it not only contained the insight and depth he might have expected but also
that the filmmaker had perfectly captured the local traditions, too. "Like in
his previous films, EVERYBODY KNOWS deals with the relationships between people
and the way in which they interact, and it's about the past which resurfaces and
can impact our present lives," Bardem says. "It was also an extremely accurate
portrayal of Spanish manners. Coming from a foreigner, I thought that was
Before filming began, Farhadi had an additional opportunity to immerse himself
in Spanish customs, embarking on an extensive period of pre-production and
location scouting in the country. He also poured through recent films searching
for actors to round out his robust ensemble. "I find that one of the great
assets of Spanish cinema comes from its actors who are so talented," Farhadi
says. "It's really exceptional."
EVERYBODY KNOWS features a collection of award-winning actors, both veterans and
up-and-coming talents, as locals with some connection to Irene's disappearance.
Among them, Eduard Fernandez (who appeared opposite Bardem in 2010's Biutiful)
plays Fernando, a retired
cop and friend to Paco who advises Laura how best to appease the kidnappers once
they have made their ransom demands. Ramon Barea portrayed Laura's aging father
Antonio, an ailing patriarch whose hostility toward Paco is rooted in class
disparity and what he believes was a real estate deal made in bad faith.
Farhadi spent weeks rehearsing with his actors, teasing out the subtleties of
the story and the psychologies of the characters-their motivations, their
anxieties, their resentments. "During the rehearsals, I discovered that he had a
gift for giving color and luster to the work of his actors," Bardem says of the
filmmaker. "To be gathered around the same table and to see how Asghar sketched
out his characters, how he asked us to focus on some very precise details that
gave each of us the essence of our character, I just loved the whole
Offers Farhadi: "I tried to talk a lot with them and convey to them exactly what
I had in mind. At first, I thought that it would be difficult to get the message
across, given that we didn't have a common language, but once the work began
everything turned out to be easier. We rehearsed, but not necessarily scenes
from the film. There was a great deal of discussion about their way of walking,
speaking, expressing themselves with their hands, about their external
appearance. The aim was to make them credible as villagers. We tried to create
the family relationships which had to exist between them."
EVERYBODY KNOWS was shot in and around Torrelaguna, a picturesque town northeast
of Madrid, with the production spanning nearly four months. The transporting
environs helped give the film a singular character and an unmistakable visual
texture. "From the start, my desire to film with nature, in a village, led me to
work in this setting," Farhadi says. "One of the pleasures of this project was
filming in the middle of all those farms, that village world where people gather
on the main square in the afternoon. It's something that inspires a certain
nostalgia in me."
From the opening shots of Everybody Knows, the film teems with vibrancy as the
camera follows Laura through her interactions with the members of her sprawling
clan-the happy chaos of the wedding reception arrives as a dazzling set piece,
full of joy and exuberance. Once Irene has vanished, the lens remains trained on
her terrified mother as Laura, by turns, experiences rage, sorrow, and grief.
The extraordinary cinematography is the work of Jose Luis Alcaine, whose career
dates to the 1960s and whose distinctive eye helped define the look of Spanish
Farhadi was delighted to partner with Alcaine on the project, their first
collaboration. "He's one of the greatest cinematographers in the world," Farhadi
says. "He's 78 years old now and has the energy of a young man of 30. Initially,
I was concerned that his style was too different from the films I've directed to
date, that realistic style that I'm always looking to translate into images. But
he'd already seen my films and really knew them. He ensured that everything was
the benefit of the realism that I was looking to convey. He always wants to try
out new ideas, avoid clichÃ©s, with a boldness that is usually associated with
As the actors worked through tense sequences filled with emotional tumult,
Farhadi was always prepared to offer specific guidance despite the language
barrier. "When you speak the same language, it's easier to communicate,
especially with the actors," Farhadi says. "When you don't know the language and
culture of your film very well, you become more vigilant so as not to let this
affect the quality. For example, if I want to ask something of an actor during
filming in Iran, we'll talk a lot, and I'll give him lots of explanations. But
in a foreign language, since I have to go through an interpreter, I try to be as
precise and clear as possible in order to help the actor understand more
quickly. It's like entering into a game that requires more energy and effort,
something I enjoy."
Although Cruz says she found Farhadi to be an exacting director, she also says
he was a valuable source of support with the unfailingly ability to clearly
articulate his vision. "Asghar is very demanding but also very good at
explaining things," says Cruz. "He asks a lot of you, but he does it with tact.
The result being that you always want to give of your best. He is very
inspiring. He lights the way to take you where he wants, and he does it with
elegance because he's a true artist. He's a kind of genius, a different breed,
gifted with exceptional sensitivity. He's able to move people deeply with the
way that he tells his stories, with what he conveys. And he does it with such
humility. He doesn't claim to be a prophet but, for me, he is so much more than
a mere director."
"The way he directs his actors and crafts his film shows his genius," adds
Bardem. "For an actor, working with him is a delight because he loves acting-he
understands it and knows what it involves. He respects actors and is considerate
Offers Darin: "Asghar is very meticulous. He is a very determined director. He
knows exactly how he wants to tell his story through his characters. He's always
looking to enhance their emotional intensity, and what's invaluable is that he
provides us with the tools to achieve this."
Darin had similarly kind words for Cruz, with whom he shares a number of
intense, heart-rending scenes. "Penelope, my encounter with her was a
revelation," he says. "On set, we were very responsive to each other's acting,
and I think that created a form of trust between us, which in turn gave us more
serenity when dealing with different situations. Penelope's approach to acting
is very intelligent and precise, which is very stimulating."
For Cruz and Bardem, working together has become a creative way of life. The
actors have appeared in nine films together since 1992's Jamon, Jamon, most
recently starring in Loving Pablo, in which Bardem plays the drug lord Pablo
Escobar and Cruz, the Colombian journalist
Virginia Vallejo. Still, EVERYBODY KNOWS offered the couple the opportunity to
explore new artistic ground.
"We'd just finished filming Escobar, in which we play two very strong characters
who have a toxic relationship," Bardem says. "We had lots of scenes together,
and it was quite complex. This time it was simpler. Penelope is an actress who
grows with every new role, and it's a pleasure to see her at work and see her
blossom. It's easy for us to work together because we know each other, and
that's a big help."
Their short-hand became invaluable during some of the most harrowing scenes
between Laura and Paco, such as when she reveals to him a private, painful
truth, one that he initially can't quite bring himself to believe. Bardem
credits Farhadi for creating a nurturing environment on set in which the actors
could feel free to follow their instincts in pursuit of honesty and truth.
"It's a complicated film," Bardem says. "Here, the subject matter makes for
great emotional intensity. No scene was easy. In fact, Asghar would suggest a
scene, see how it worked, and change details if he wanted to try other things or
emphasize something else. Nothing was set in stone, and he never said, 'That's
how it has to be.' On the contrary, Asghar loves life and wants every scene to
be true to life."
"All the characters are complex, subtle and multi-faceted," adds Cruz. "There
are no good guys and bad guys: it's like in real life, things are never as
clear-cut as they seem."
Indeed, in the cinema of Asghar Farhadi, there are no easy answers. There are no
fairytale endings. There are only real stories freighted with all the
imperfections of their players, human beings hoping to find acceptance despite
their faults and their flaws and their uncertainties.
"What I'm always looking for when writing and directing a film, and which is
uppermost in my mind, can be summarised in one word: empathy," Farhadi says. "I
don't necessarily intend to transmit a message through my films. If the audience
from anywhere around the world, from any culture and language, with very diverse
traits, manage to feel empathy for my characters without knowing them, if they
can imagine themselves as one of them, then I will have achieved my objective.
That's what I always emphasize the most in each film, what I need myself and
what today's world needs-this empathy for one's fellow man across borders and
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