The 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival, grappling with gender equality, #MeToo Movement and a selfie ban on the red carpet, was inaugurated here on Tuesday by the Australian actress and President of the main jury, Cate Blanchett, and the legendary American director, Martin Scorsese.
Given these , there was off-screen drama with some of the Festival attendees trying to break the ban on selfies in an era when photographing oneself has become such a grotesque obsession. But then the General-Delegate of the Festival, Thierry Fremaux, a strong critic of the selfie culture – which he felt was not only an ugly way of capturing images but also impeding the free flow on the red carpet – made it his personal mission to enforce the rule with an almost iron hand. There may have been a few stray violations on day one, but Fremaux seemed to have succeeded at least on the inaugural evening at the Grand Theatre Lumiere – which will play host to cinema for the next several days.
This year's Cannes will also see other radical changes, all pushed by Fremaux. One of them is the re-working of the Press schedule for movies. Journalists will not longer be able to watch a film before others do. Thus the movies will be truly world premieres – a move which Fremaux felt would help production teams to ward off early criticism. And in Cannes, journalists can be brutal, completely destroying the prospects of a film.
It is in such a scenario that the Iranian auteur, Asghar Farhadi's Spanish language Everybody Knows opened the Festival. The Festival has invariably kicked off with either a French work or one in English – the only exception being 2004, when the Spanish master Pedro Almodovar's Bad Educator, got Cannes rolling on its 12-day sojourn.
Everybody Knows is a psychological thriller, which stars the husband-wife duo, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem from Spain, and Ricardo Darín from Argentina. Certainly Everybody Knows has all the classic Farhadi elements, but I still felt that language could be an obstacle, and that is why the director's best so far has been the Oscar-clinching A Separation (in Farsi), whose power-packed marital drama is just unforgettable. Farhadi's later set-in-Paris The Past disappointed me all right.
However, Everybody Knows – weaving layers within layers subtly hitting out against class distinctions and long forgotten family secrets – gets a tremendous boost not only from Farhadi's master craftsmanship, but also the lead pair, husband-wife duo Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz's brilliant performance. But of course.
After many years in Argentina, Laura (Cruz) returns to her native village in Spain for her sister's wedding. She arrives with her teenage daughter, Irene, and her young son, Diego. Their father does not come. Staying at her ageing father's large villa, Laura is happy to be back home, and so too her family to see her and her children. Paco (Bardem), once Laura's lover but now married to Bea (Barbara Lennie), is also joyous at the reunion.
But then the drinking and dancing celebrations come to a grinding halt when Irene is kidnapped for ransom. And secrets come tumbling down in a way that is so Farhadi. He has been a master at working with human emotions and how the past of men influences their present to get them to behave in the most irrational ways.
However, somewhere in Everybody Knows Farhadi falters because his strength has never been dealing with too many characters, and his work is so crowded that it sometimes becomes difficult to understand what exactly is happening on the screen. His earlier movies have all been minimalistic – with just a handful of characters. But Everybody Knows appears to have flooded itself with too many.
Also, Farhadi's usual style of working with secrets does not quite succeed here, because we can see revelations coming a mile away. This stops the story from turning into a nail-biting thriller.
What ultimately saves the movie is the fine acting, especially by Cruz and Bardem. In roles that seem to have been written only for them, they breathe life into Laura and Paco. Their chemistry and their sorrow are so marvellously brought out that Everybody Knows shines even through some of its pitfalls.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cannes Film Festival for the 29th year, and he may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)