Asghar Farhadi has pedigree writing and directing sensitive and politically and thematically complex movies. His latest, Everybody Knows, is an absorbing rural melodrama, a family reunion with a twist that plays out leisurely yet with a fascinating sense of determination.

The returning Laura (Penelope Cruz) makes a pilgrimage to her home town along with her teenage daughter and young son for the wedding of her sister, reacquainting herself with her friends and relatives and local businessman Paco (Javier Bardem) with whom she had a youthful fling. There is clearly still an undercurrent of passion between the two, but it is Laura’s daughter Irene (Carla Campra) who pursues a flirtatious liaison with a local lad as a prelude to a wedding that seems to involve the lion’s share of the town.

Chaos follows the celebration as Irene is kidnapped and Laura finds a ransom note and strict instructions not to go to the police. In a despair, Laura turns to her family and the sympathetic Paco to help her bring about the safe return of her daughter. It’s a trial that tests the friendships of the family members, puts the locals under suspicion and seems to re-ignite old resentments.

It’s something of a case of a game of two halves, here. Writer/Director Asghar Farhadi takes his time to scene-set in the opening hour-and-a-bit, providing plenty of colour to a town and a film that feels well lived-in and full of character. There are some politics at play as well. Paco’s vineyard is a sprawling success and he is invited to teach the kids at the local school about wine, but he comes across as a working-class lad done good to the resentment of some of the other locals, not least of all Laura’s alcoholic shambles of a father. Laura meanwhile talk of her husband’s lack of recent success as a writer and their idyllic life in Buenos Aires may not be as bucolic as the world she left behind. It’s not a community at war with itself, but there are tantalising glimpses of the odd dirty secret.

The meandering unfolding of events might well unfold too lazily for some viewers or anyone expecting a cinematic equivalent of a tawdry airport paperback as the story wanders into the second half. Everybody Knows is content to take its time, to make you feel at home with its characters long before it even considers throwing a spanner in the works.

If it falters, and I think that it does to some extent, it’s that it doesn’t quite follow-up its initial patience with a proper turning over of a stone to uncover the bugs and creepies you hope are hiding underneath. It teases and it intrigues, but it never quite lands the emotional knockout blow that it has been threatening for the thick end of two hours.

Nevertheless, it’s a frequently beautiful and doggedly absorbing watch and a movie of consistently excellent performances; particularly Bardem whose breezily charming Paco finds himself at the centre of a storm but also something of an outsider in his own town.

Dir: Asghar Farhadi

Scr: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Barbara Lennie, Carla Campra

Prd: Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Alvaro Longoria

DOP: Jose Luis Alcaine

Music: Javier Limon

Country: Spain, France, Italy

Year: 2018

Runtime: 132 minutes

Everybody Knows is in cinemas now.