I’ve just come out of an opening-night Cannes Film Festival screening (not the big whoop-dee-doo one in the Grand Lumiere but a concurrent press screening in the Salle Debussy) of Asghar Farhadi‘s Everybody Knows. It’s not a bust but by Farhadi’s lofty standards it’s something of a shortfaller, particularly due to how the third act unfolds.

But it’s still a Farhadi film, and that always means a character-rich, complexly plotted, proceeding-at-its-own-pace family-community drama — smartly written, always well acted — in which deeper and deeper layers of the onion are gradually peeled until the truth comes out.

Set in rural Spain, it’s about the sudden disappearance of a character but it’s not an About Elly-level thing. At all. It’s actually about a kidnapping but that’s all I’m going to divulge. But Everybody Knows follows the Farhadi form by focusing on a large community of family members, friends, co-workers (i.e., a wine farm) and whatnot, and everyone, we soon realize, knows everyone else’s secrets. Well, most of them. And by the end, everything comes out in the wash.

But the story and especially the ending don’t echo all that much in a social-fabric or social-portraiture sense. All you get from it is “people are more selfish and prideful and less compassionate than they let on,” but you knew that going in. It tells a tale about some bad business, and it stays on that level to the end. It doesn’t expand or begin to play a bigger game.

When the closing credits began to roll only five or six people clapped, and half-heartedly at that.

Something is wrong when a portion of an audience laughs at a plot revelation, which happened tonight during the third act or around 100 minutes in. There’s nothing clumsy or attitudinally funny about the “new information”, so to speak, but several journalists inside the Salle Debussy guffawed rather loudly when Penelope Cruz said a particular line.

I almost turned around and sneered because the revelation is something that’s built into the buried-family-secrets plot — you can smell it coming a mile away. Why 10 or 15 journos chortled out loud is beyond me. It’s an awkward moment dramatically, I’ll admit, but it’s not a crazy thing to throw into a drama of this sort. It’s like a third-act “surprise” out of a gothic romance novel, but it fits right into the fabric and scheme of the story.

Having heard over the last couple of days that Everybody Knows underwhelms or is some kind of “meh” thing, I went in expecting a problem movie or even one that goes thud. But it’s not that bad and is actually pretty good all the way through until the last 15 or 20. I would even say first-rate for the most part, but it does get into trouble in the third act.

The finale is okay, but it doesn’t feel complete or fulfilling enough. All the loose ends are tied up for the most part, but it doesn’t quite get there. If a friend were to ask, I would say “actually it’s pretty good…it’s not Farhadi’s best and is probably his least commanding, but he’s such a brilliant, high-calibre filmmaker that even his second-tier movies are fully involving, always believably acted and quite the meticulous ride.”

Like I said, it’s not an About Elly-level thing at all. It’s more on the level of The Past, although The Past, which some said suffered from a layered-onion plot that felt too soap-opera-ish, is a more satisfying film. And it’s slightly below The Salesman and way below A Separation. But it’s a Farhadi film (yeah, I said that already), and you can’t go too wrong with someone this good and gifted.

The performances are excellent top to bottom, starting with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem as ex-lovers who’ve moved on and invested in new partnerships, but are drawn back together after “the thing” happens. The always-first-rate Ricardo Darin plays Cruz’s husband, who flies to join his wife in Spain when the heat increases.

Costars Bárbara Lennie, Inma Cuesta, Carla Campra, Eduard Fernandez, Jaime Lorente, Elvira Mínguez, Sara Sálamo, Roger Casamajor, José Ángel Egido, Ramón Barea…everyone performs like a master and exactly as they should.