There have always been rumors and speculation. But now . . .
Now everybody knows.
In this film by visionary Iranian filmmaker Farhadi, Penelope Cruz plays a woman returning to her small hometown in Spain for a family wedding. Farhadi’s films aren’t ever exactly thrillers, but there’s something mysterious to the way the plot and the characters move in a Farhadi film, so I always encourage viewers to go into his films knowing as little as possible. So, suffice it to say, the happy occasion takes a turn in a decidedly unhappy direction and, as is often the case in Farhadi’s films, the past refuses to die. The history all of these characters have with one another comes to the fore; old wounds open; old secrets are revealed. This is unfortunately something of a lesser film for Farhadi; the plot twists and emotional reveals are less well-handled here and in fact one of the big reveals of the film is downright bungled. But still, Farhadi finds a way into the quiet moments of sorrow and suffering that haunt these characters as he always does. Cruz is wonderful, as vivacious and captivating as ever, but it’s the way she reveals her character’s desperation as the film progresses that really lands. Javier Bardem, playing a family friend and ex-lover of Cruz’s character, is soulful and brilliant. His dramatic arc over the film is the most complex and heartwrenching of all of the characters and he nails every moment exactly right. The entire ensemble is great. Of special note is Barbara Lennie as Bardem’s wife; she’s pitch perfect. Jose Angel Egido steals every scene he’s in as a wily, sardonic private detective. Ricardo Darin has some quietly devastating moments as Cruz’s husband in the film & Carla Campra as their daughter really lands a couple of haunting and painful scenes as well. It’s a solid film and it has several genuinely great performances, but it doesn’t quite justify its length (well over two hours) and the first half-hour in particular could stand a trim in my opinion. And, as I said above, the plot mechanics get a little creaky toward the end, though the emotional fall-out remains compelling. This one will go down as a weaker entry in Farhadi’s filmography, but given Farhadi’s filmography, that’s hardly a damning statement. There’s still much worth considering here. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – somewhat overly complicated film is a weak entry in Farhadi’s filmography, but there are plenty of powerful moments; the ensemble cast does mostly top-notch work. 3 ½ stars.