Robert McKee’s “Works/Doesn’t Work” Review
Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi
It Doesn’t Work. (Spoiler Alert!)
A tear-stained list of Jerry Springer chants (He stole my money! He stole my property! He stole my baby!) infects this wannabe art film.
A Fractured Story
A hole is a glaring gap in causal logic that halts narrative drive. Suddenly the story makes no sense, and so the audience is forced to analyze events and try to bridge the chasm between cause and effect.
EVERYBODY KNOWS swirls around a massive hole in its kidnapping scheme: For the ransom to be paid, Paco (Javier Bardem) must sell everything he owns and bankrupt himself. Why would he do that? And why would the kidnapper (a family cousin) hinge the crime on the off chance he will?
The victim is the daughter of Alejandro (Ricardo Darin), Paco’s old friend, and his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz), Paco’s x-lover. Things get desperate when Alejandro reveals that he has no money, only debts. Laura then tells Poco that her daughter is in fact his daughter too. The problem is that the weekend she got pregnant she had sex with both Alejandro and Poco, and so she’s only guessing which guy is the father. Why would Poco believe her and willingly destroy his financial future? And critically, how could the kidnapper count on both Laura’s confession and Poco’s acceptance? This is nonsense.
Spanish language storytelling offers a rich tradition in Family Drama with hundreds of superb examples such as Garcia Lorca’s plays The House of Bernarda Alba and Blood Wedding, Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits—all cliché-free masterpieces written by authors with an immersive knowledge of their culture.
Asghar Farhadi has won two Oscars with two Family Dramas: A SEPARATION and THE SALESMAN. Both center on an Iranian family’s reaction to an alleged crime. Both fascinate with insights into Iranian culture—a subject Farhadi’s knows in psychological depth and behavioural detail.
Now comes EVERYBODY KNOWS, yet another story about a family’s reaction to a crime, but this time set in Spain—a culture about which this writer/director has no more knowledge than a tourist. Instead of insightful turning points that shed light on human nature, this telling relies on clichéd ceremonies of weddings, cooking, wine imbibing, petty arguments and dirty secrets whispered in any hour’s worth of telenovela—all sentimentalized with a dozens of hugs and rivers of tears.
Question: When an author doesn’t know his subject, where does he go for ideas? Answer: Into other artists’ writings, so he can recycle their originality. The source of all clichés is ignorance of subject combined with arrogance of ego, as everybody knows.
A title whets the audience’s appetite for the story and grounds the marketing. An effective title labels one of three things in its story: Character, setting or theme. A great title does two or three at once. THE FAVOURITE, for example, implies a character (someone on a lower rung), the setting (a social hierarchy) and the theme (power struggles).
EVERYBODY KNOWS suggests a family and the secret they all hide, except perhaps the one person who needs to know it most. Fine, up to a point. The problem, however, is that the full title is EVERYBODY KNOWS, starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. This stirs a hunger for something superb, but what we got was a guidebook of famous Spanish clichés.