Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi has given us the films The Salesman, About Elly, The Past, and my favorite — A Separation. This is easily the worst of Farhadi’s films and guess what? It’s still pretty good. If a filmmaker has this as his worst movie — I hope he continues making movies for another 50 years.
Farhadi takes this Spanish-language drama to Spain, and assembles a terrific cast. It’s the story about a mother (Penelope Cruz) whose daughter (Carla Campra) gets kidnapped at a wedding. Since they’re told not to contact the police, it becomes a whodunnit-light, where the family tries to figure out their next move. It’s a kidnapping story that starts to become a telenovela at times, dealing with unrequited love and family resentments. Yet you’re captivated by it all, despite it running a lot longer than needed. It was around 2 hours and 15 minutes, and with a few scenes feeling redundant, that long a movie wasn’t necessary. At that long, you feel the underwhelming screenplay just doesn’t warrant that much of your time.
It all takes place around a quaint town in Spain, where Paco (Javier Bardem) runs a big vineyard.
There’s a terrific opening shot of pigeons in the town’s clocktower which created the vibe of a Hitchcock film. Other elements of the film also had a Hitchcock/Agatha Christie vibe.
Problems start at a wedding that the filmmaker spent a long time with, and I’m glad. It’s a wonderful celebration, with wine, song, and even a power outage that doesn’t slow the celebration down a bit. There’s something about longer wedding ceremonies in smaller movies, that always works wonderfully. I’m thinking of Monsoon Wedding out of India 18 years ago, or Rachel Getting Married 10 years ago. So much more fun watching a family in a joyous celebration, than something like Bridesmaids where women are fighting over who the best friend is, and trying to get the last word in on speeches. But what do I know? One of those movies made almost $300 million, the other made $17 million (despite being a Jonathan Demme film starring Anne Hathaway).
Anyway, Laura (Penelope Cruz) has returned from Argentina to her hometown with kids in tow, to attend the wedding.
She has good chemistry with Paco (Bardem), with whom we learn she once had a thing – what “everyone knows.”
The teenager girl starts hanging around with a teenage boy in town. They dangerously ride a motorcycle and sneak up to the clocktower for a quick kiss. Soon she disappears.
The kidnappers want $500,000 or they’ll kill her. And Paco, like Liam Neeson, possesses a special set of skills that might bring the daughter of his ex-girlfriend back. Those skills aren’t beating people up, but include walking around his vineyard and looking at suspicious people, watching videos and reading news clippings of kidnappings. One of his skills isn’t calming down his current wife, who has reason to be bothered about a few things.
Off course, he does a great job of comforting Laura the best he can. The tension of that unrequited love breaks your heart.
You meet a handful of colorful family members and friends, and you begin to wonder whether any of them have anything to do with the abduction.
There’s a mysterious guy that, in one of many scenes I loved, questions grieving people without the kid gloves. Often times on screen when a character does that, it’s frustrating. I’m always asking myself (or my wife), why the person would be so rude when a family member disappeared and they’re worried and grieving. Yet how it was handled here, in a couple scenes, is brilliant.
There’s another scene I liked where one family member hands a cell phone to another, to read the message from the kidnappers, and he drops it on the stairs as he’s reading it. It seemed like something a freaked out relative would do, but also seemed so natural I wondered if the actor just dropped the phone and they left it in.
My wife was bothered that Cruz spent most of her time just crying, but I felt that was authentic to what a mother would do if their child were kidnapped.
There’s a lot of subtlety in Farhadi films, unfortunately there’s less of that here than in his previous works.
At times, the dialogue didn’t knock my socks off; but with great performances and a cast this great (which included Ricardo Darin, Barbara Lennie, Eduard Fernandez, and Ramon Barea), it’s worth checking out. It’s only playing at three theatres in town (I saw it at my favorite — the Angelika Film Center).
The final two scenes of the movie were brilliant.
3 stars out of 5.