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From Left: Javier Bardem, Eduard Fernandez, Ricardo Darin and Penelope Cruz in Everybody KnowsEXPAND
From Left: Javier Bardem, Eduard Fernandez, Ricardo Darin and Penelope Cruz in Everybody Knows
Focus Features

Everybody Knows Is a Spanish Snooze, While Mapplethorpe Makes a Mess of an Icon

Everybody Knows. Two-time Oscar-winning Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi is a filmmaker who has crafted subtle but focused movies about the dynamics of human relations in Iran. Here, he goes out on a limb with a cast of Spanish actors as varied as that of Cannonball Run — and falls off the precipice.

Everybody Knows marks his first foray into filmmaking with a language that isn’t his own, and it’s possible that it handicaps him. The only way this movie is recognizable as a Farhadi film is its concern for family, a subdued color palette of browns, reds, and blues, and its duration. The run time is too long, in this case, as the story meanders emptily toward a couple of not-very-surprising revelations.

Filled with famous faces of Spanish cinema (Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Bárbara Lennie, and Ricardo Darín, to name a few), the movie feels like a weak attempt at soap opera. It drags along at the start, introducing this extended family and their friends as it crawls toward an incident recalling his early masterpiece About Elly (2009). Too obsessed with giving proper screen time to all involved, Farhadi still fails to hint at these characters’ complicated relationships.

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There’s a budding, flirty friendship between Irene (Carla Campra), the daughter of Laura (Cruz) and Alejandro (Darín), and a handsome young local (Sergio Castellanos). In the periphery, a relationship with Laura and Paco (Bardem), who runs a vineyard with his wife Bea (Lennie), comes to light. Farhadi tries to remain low-key about connections, indulging in an extended wedding scene and some tense pillow talk between some of the characters that obfuscates more than it enlightens. By the time the suspense kicks in you are hardly invested, as events reveal a family drama of banal grudges. By the time you are there, the twists and revelations are either predictable or eye-rollingly dull.

When this writer caught the film during its Florida Premiere at Miami Film Festival’s Gems last year, there was exhausted, half-hearted applause when it ended, capped up with one audible “boo!” The problem may be that Farhadi, who is also credited with writing the script, is not a Spanish director. It is, therefore, no surprise that most of the Spanish-speaking audience in attendance revolted against the film, complaining about its poor quality. Some even seemed offended by it. But it also boils down to storytelling, and this film stands as a sloppy example that hardly lives up to the filmmaker’s past achievements. Opens Friday, March 8 at AMC Aventura, Coral Gables Art Cinema, MDC’s Tower Theater Miami and Regal South Beach Stadium 18.

Matt Smith in MapplethorpeEXPAND
Matt Smith in Mapplethorpe
Samuel Goldwyn Films

Mapplethorpe. For all the complexity that was photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s life, the first attempt at a biopic about him stumbles woefully. Mapplethorpe director Ondi Timoner has only ever produced documentaries up until now, including some great ones like Dig! (2004), about the comradeship and then rivalry between the two West Coast alternative rock bands The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. It’s a shame that her first foray into feature filmmaking comes across as a superficial mess.

Beginning with a scene featuring Matt Smith, who does a fine job playing the man, lazying about his ROTC dorm in full formal military garb, the images, which were shot on film, look pretty enough. But his restlessness, puffing on a cigarette and crashing onto his bed, mimics the frustrating, aimless quality of the film. Scenes unfold as a pastiche of pivotal events that made up Mapplethorpe’s life that never deepen the characters in the film.

The film leaps to iconic moments with minimalist title cards noting years like 1975 or 1981, without any proper transitions explaining how Mapplethorpe went from destitute to famous in between. There’s a meet-cute with Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) and the arrival of brother Edward (Brandon Sklenar) to work in Mapplethorpe’s studio, where the more famous older brother tells him to cut ties with family, foreshadowing his future change of name. And then there are some outright false moments, such as Mapplethorpe being gifted a Polaroid camera by Sandy Daley (Tina Benko) implying that that gift inspired him to start taking photos. (Mapplethorpe was already snapping pictures for Interview magazine years earlier.)

There’s always room for departure from the facts in biopics for the sake of efficiency. Some make for good cinema, such as when Timoner chooses certain songs to accompany the creation of some of Mapplethorpe's most famous pieces: “More Than This” by Roxy Music for Milton Moore (McKinley Belcher III) posing for Man in Polyester Suit and New Order’s “Blue Monday” for one of his famous Calla Lily pieces. However, there’s no clarity about what came first, the flowers or the penises, which could at least help to put certain shallow readings of Mapplethorpe to rest (The flowers came first according to former assistant, Dimitri Levas). This film adds little to dispel the mythos of Mapplethorpe, who will continue to be known as the gay man who died of AIDS after making a name for himself photographing penises and flowers. Opens Thursday, March 7 at Cinépolis Coconut Grove.

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