Archives for December 2019

2 films disappoint in 2019

Every­body Knows

Apart from the obvi­ous (see my review of Jok­er here), the two most dis­ap­point­ing films of the year just gone were Every­body Knows and Sun­set. The for­mer direct­ed by the Iran­ian Asghar Farha­di, the lat­ter by the Hun­gar­i­an Lás­zló Nemes.

Farha­di came to inter­na­tion­al promi­nence with his dev­as­tat­ing fifth fea­ture A Sep­a­ra­tion, reviewed by me ear­li­er here. And there are a lot of super­fi­cial sim­i­lar­i­ties between that film and the one that was released this year. 

Or rather, it would be more accu­rate to say that Farha­di has devel­oped a very par­tic­u­lar way of telling a sto­ry, and in that regard at least, Every­body Knows is very much cut from the same cloth.

He focus­es on inti­mate, per­son­al dra­mas cen­tred on an appar­ent­ly sim­ple dilem­ma. But as the sto­ry unfolds, he drip-feeds you details that com­pli­cate it incre­men­tal­ly. So that by its end, you’re left qui­et­ly devastated. 

A Sep­a­ra­tion.

It’s not fair to expect every film to be a mas­ter­piece of course. After A Sep­a­ra­tion (‘11), About Elly (’09 — actu­al­ly made before, but released after) was an intrigu­ing­ly enig­mat­ic film. The Past (’13) was pow­er­ful for three of its quar­ters but fiz­zled out there­after. While The Sales­man (’16) was some­thing of a return to form.

But unlike any of those, the twists and turns of the plot in Every­body Knows feel qui­et­ly cal­cu­lat­ed and hence con­trived. Where pre­vi­ous­ly, those grad­ual devel­op­ments felt organ­ic, here they seem forced.

Which is a shame, as Javier Bar­dem and Pene­lope Cruz are, as ever, mag­net­ic. But how odd that Farha­di man­aged so suc­cess­ful­ly to com­plete­ly damp­en any sex­u­al chem­istry between the two. It ought to have been there in the script, as it was in their past. And he clear­ly could have had it, had he want­ed to, on screen.

Son of Saul.

Son of Saul was the fea­ture debut for Nemes, and won the Grand Prix at Cannes and the Acad­e­my Award for Best for­eign film in 2015 and 2016 respec­tive­ly. So we were all hop­ing to be sim­i­lar­ly wowed by his fol­low up. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Sun­set qui­et­ly disappointed. 

It’s not a bad film (nei­ther for that mat­ter is Every­body Knows), it’s just a bit of a mess, sto­ry-wise. Styl­is­ti­cal­ly, it’s told in much the same way as Son of Saul. Unusu­al­ly long, claus­tro­pho­bic shots are ren­dered all the more men­ac­ing because of what they don’t show us. We can hear what’s going on, but by focus­ing on him and on how he reacts to those events, it becomes all the more threatening.

The same tech­nique is employed here. But the stakes aren’t quite so high, so you have more time to con­cen­trate on the details of the sto­ry unfold­ing. And, sim­ply put, there’s not enough care invest­ed in that aspect of the film.


In many ways, it’s the mir­ror image of Every­body Knows. Almost the same, and at once its exact oppo­site. Where Farhadi’s film becomes for­mu­la­ic in the way that it struc­tures its sto­ry, Nemes uses the same visu­al tech­niques in Sun­set as he had in Son of Saul. So that what were pre­vi­ous­ly styl­is­tic inno­va­tions become instead mere­ly formulaic.

Nei­ther are bad films, and nei­ther film mak­er has sud­den­ly become unin­ter­est­ing. It’s just that, for two of the most excit­ing film mak­ers work­ing any­where in the world, Every­body Knows and Sun­set were some­thing of a disappointment. 

You can see the trail­er for A Sep­a­ra­tion here

And the trail­er for Son of Saul here.

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