Credit image:Memento Films
Todos Lo Saben, a feature film that opened the competition for the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, is for the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi an escape from the only partial nest, a new declination of the main themes of his cinematographic mission moved elsewhere and applied to a cheering Spanish province. Uncomfortable parenting ties and rusty, catalyzed and exacerbated by the past that returns and contaminates, the noble dramas that make even the strongest characters fall in the quicksand.
Laura and her children travel from Buenos Aires to the village where she was born, on a Spanish vineyard, to attend her sister’s wedding but unexpected events lead this gathering towards a crisis which exposes the hidden past of the family.
Interview to Penélope Cruz, actress
How did you meet Asghar Farhadi the director, screenwriter?
I really like Asghar’s films, especially A SEPARATION, which for me was a masterpiece. He called me and told me he wanted to shoot a movie in Spain and that he was thinking of me for a role. His phone call is one of the best things that happened to me in my whole career. I’ve so much admiration for him, he’s one of the greatest. He’s a good man, quite remarkable and extraordinarily sensitive.
What did you think when you read the script?
Asghar first told me the story almost five years ago. It’s true that over the years it’s really evolved in his mind, and he’s shared it with us bit by bit, as Javier and myself had already accepted to do the film with him. It was what he wanted to tell through this story that was interesting. In one way this family is a sort of metaphor for what is going on around us. Like in the poem by Djalal al–‐Din Roumi which I came across a few weeks into filming thanks to another Iranian friend. It says that if one member of a family is suffering then all the others suffer too. For me the essence of the film is in this poem. Indeed, when I spoke to Asghar about it he told me that this same poem meant a great deal to him and that he had in fact been thinking about it the previous day. There were a lot of moments like that during the filming.
Who is Laura?
Laura is a very special woman who’s been through a lot. She has had to make some difficult decisions involving other people. And that weighs on her. We all carry the burden of our experiences and traumas, some of us more than others. Laura is a woman with a secret and suddenly she finds herself faced with A crisis. This situation leads her into revealing her secret and thereby unleashing a host of things that she’d struggled to keep buried. This no doubt explains why the character was the most complicated I’ve ever had to play.
Did you identify with Laura at times?
I never thought about it. I don’t have to agree with her, nor like her as a person, her temperament, what she does or doesn’t do. I don’t need to justify her actions, just understand her one hundred percent. And I think I managed that because the role is so well written. All the characters are complex, subtle and multi–‐faceted. There are no good guys and bad guys: it’s like in real life, things are never as clear–‐cut as they seem.
How was it filming with Asghar Farhadi?
It went really well. Filming lasted nearly four months. And in those four months an awful lot happened! Asghar is very demanding, but also very good at explaining things. He asks a lot of you, but he does it with tact. The result being that you always want to give of your best. He is very inspiring. He lights the way to take you where he wants, and he does it with elegance because he’s a true artist. He’s a kind of genius, a different breed, gifted with exceptional sensitivity. People like him are rare. I haven’t come across many so far in my career, but when it happens you can sense that the person is very special. He’s able to move people deeply with the way that he tells his stories, with what he conveys. And he does it with such humility. He doesn’t claim to be a prophet but, for me, he is so much more than a meredirector.
Interview to Javier Bardem, actor
How did you end up on this project?
If I remember rightly, it was in 2013 or 2014 in Los Angeles. Asghar was there promoting a film, I was also there for work, and we met. I turned up for the meeting both stressed and very impatient to meet the artist, and above all the man. Just like his films he fascinates me. We talked together in English as best we could, and we touched on the idea of working together. A few months late I received a treatment for the upcoming screenplay, and from then on we stayed in contact.
What was your first impression on reading the treatment?
Asghar works on ideas, concepts, stories. He’d written twenty or thirty pages, to which he’d attached a very detailed summary. Like a script without the dialogue. I really liked the story, the atmosphere and particularly the relationships between the characters. Like in his previous films EVERYBODY KNOWS deals with the relationships between people and the way in which they interact, and it’s about the past which resurfaces and can impact our present lives. It was also an extremely accurate portrayal of Spanish manners. And coming from a foreigner I thought that was brilliant.
How did you work with Asghar Farhadi to bring your character to life?
When he finished writing his screenplay we started talking about the character and the rehearsals. I was really looking forward to sitting down with him and listening. The way he directs his actors and crafts his film shows his genius. So for an actor working with him is a delight, because he loves acting, he understands it and knows what it involves, he respects actors and is considerate towards them. During the rehearsals I discovered that he had a gift for giving colour and lustre to the work of his actors. For me it was also an opportunity to mix with people I admire or with whom I’ve already worked such as Eduard, Penelope of course, and Ricardo, with whom I’d never acted and who is in my view one of the finest actors in the world. To be gathered around the same table and to see how Asghar sketched out his characters, how he asked us to focus on some very precise details which gave each of us the essence of our character, I just loved the whole experience. We spent two or three weeks rehearsing.I know he would have liked it to last longer but many of the actors had commitments elsewhere.
Tell us about your character, Paco.
He’s a man living in a village, even if he has contact with the city. He’s worked hard to get to where he is. He was born in the house where Laura’s family lives. Bit by bit he started to farm the land and to look after the vineyard. At the opening of the film he feels fulfilled in his personal and professional life. But then something happens which makes all sorts of demands upon him: psychological, emotional, physical, as well as ethical, and causing his life to change. Suddenly his past resurfaces and clashes withthe present. Paco’s character is full of nuances, in the way it’s written and, I hope, in the way it’s played.
Did you identify with Paco?
I really like the character. As the great Victoria Abril said, as actors we have to defend our characters rather than judge them, otherwise we’re not doing our job. That said, sometimes there will be characters who make you uncomfortable. But that’s not the case here. It’s like Ramón Sampedro in THE SEA INSIDE or Reinaldo Arenas in BEFORE NIGHT FALLS: characters I remember fondly. Paco is like that. There’s a light about him, a glow, a simplicity which is akin to a certain type of wisdom. He’s a down–‐to–‐earth soul, full of common sense.
What were your relationships with the other actors? The fact of working again
With Penelope and with Ricardo?
With Penelope we’d just finished filming ESCOBAR in which we play two very strong characters who have a toxic relationship. We had lots of scenes together and it was quite complex. This time it was simpler. Penelope is an actress who grows with every new role and it’s a pleasure to see her at work and see her blossom. It’s easy for us to work together because we know each other, and that’s a big help. I could speak about the other actors for hours. There were those like Inma Cuesta who I’d never met but whose work I knew. And others like Elvira or Eduard who I knew or with whom I’d already worked. And I was finally able to play opposite Ricardo Darín, someone I’d always wanted to work with. We don’t have many scenes together, but they are intense. It was also wonderful to watch Ramón Barea. He’s an extraordinary man and actor. Even though he’s very experienced he’s always wanting to try new things. I think that’s great and really instructive.
Which is your favourite scene and the one you found most complicated?
I think that it’s a complicated film, but so is every film for one reason or another. Here, the subject matter makes for great emotional intensity. No scene was easy. In fact, Asghar would suggest a scene, see how it worked, and change details if he wanted to try other things or emphasise something else. Nothing was set in stone, and he never said « that’s how it has to be ». On the contrary, Asghar loves life and wants every scene to be true to life. Looking back I would say that the group scenes were the most complicated. There were a lot of us and each actor had his own approach. For example, any given emotion, fear for example, will be portrayed in different ways. In the end it’s up to the director to bring harmony, but it requires a huge amount of concentration on the part of the actors. You have to be attentive to others, as always, but when there are ten of you it’s important not to lose your concentration.