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Short Take: Everybody Knows

(Asghar Farhadi, Spain/France/Italy, Focus Features, Opening February 8)

Asghar Farhadi is unsurpassed in his surgical examination of the ways in which unexpected developments can bring history to the fore, and up to now his scalpels have been implication and nuanced ambiguity. But in his eighth film as director—and his first in Spanish—the distractingly oft-repeated title seems to herald an unfortunate new approach to imparting information: everybody will know everything, even if it means clumsy exposition (an elderly character exists to divulge backstory in drunken accusatory rants), heavy-handed foreshadowing (we’re way ahead of the characters in anticipating plot twists), and redundancy (conversations are reprised with different participants but the same narrative takeaway).

One would like to blame the shift in cultural context: as splashily lensed by Almodóvar DP José Luis Alcaine, there’s nothing repressive about the vibrant Madrid-adjacent village where expat Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns for a wedding, during which her daughter is seemingly abducted. But rather than follow in the enigmatic footsteps of his 2009 anti-thriller About Elly, Farhadi makes the disappearance the catalyst for a schematic study in class exploitation, as Laura must turn for help to onetime servant’s son and ex-lover Paco (Javier Bardem), whose personal fortunes have reversed.

The starry cast (especially the stalwart Bardem) do their best to distract us from Farhadi’s thematic architecture, but it’s as conspicuous as the drones that hover about the proceedings, surveilling the ground-level activity like a filmmaker too removed from his subject.