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Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem star in Iranian director’s first Spanish-language film

Charles Ealy Special to the American-Statesman
Penelope Cruz, left, and Javier Bardem in a scene from "Everbody Knows." [Teresa Isasi/Focus Features via AP]

“Everybody Knows” starts out with a big family wedding in a town outside Madrid – and it attracts the return of one of the family’s favorite members, Laura (Penelope Cruz), and her two children.

Laura lives in Buenos Aires with her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin), and her return to Spain is joyous for nearly everyone except Bea (Barbara Lennie), who is married to Laura’s childhood love, Paco (Javier Bardem). Bea tries to tell herself that the Laura/Paco romance is over, but she wonders.

And then a tragedy befalls the wedding, with a kidnapping of a child. And when Paco becomes heavily involved in trying to raise the ransom for the missing child, Bea becomes increasingly worried.

But the center of the movie doesn’t belong to Bea. It’s the story of Laura — of her long-ago relationship with Paco, of her new husband, Alejandro, and of her loving relationships with her two children.

As usual, Cruz commands every scene, and writer/director Ashgar Farhadi clearly knows how lucky he is to have her star in one of his movies. His previous movies have been set in his native Iran (“The Salesman,” “A Separation”), and they’ve explored a specific culture, while rising above those specificities to be universal. As Farhadi’s first Spanish-language feature, “Everybody Knows” shows that he can excel in multiple genres.

The opening scenes in the bell tower of the town’s Catholic church are fantastic. And a love tryst in that same tower is charming — but at the same time ominous, in a Hitchcockian kind of way.

It’s hard to discuss the plot of “Everybody Knows” any further without getting into major spoilers. Let’s just say that big surprises lurk in what you think is going to be a crime drama.

But that’s the way Farhadi works as a writer. He leads you down a comfortable path – and then lowers the boom.

Farhadi hasn’t made a breakthrough movie for U.S. audiences. “A Separation” won the 2012 Oscar for best foreign language film, but its total box office take worldwide was only $7 million — not bad, but not a great total for an Oscar winner.

“Everybody Knows” has more box-office potential, in part because it’s in Spanish, and in part because it has two bankable stars — Cruz and Bardem.