The Secret in Their EyesWritten and directed by Juan José CampanellaStarring Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago and Guillermo FrancellaRated R*7.5*Goes well with: The White Ribbon, Luna de Avellaneda, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
It's not unusual for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to go to a movie you've never heard of. Just look at 2007, when Guillermo del Toro's adult fairy tale, Pan's Labyrinth, lost to the German film The Lives of Others. This has everything to do with the sad fact that very few foreign-language films find their way into American movie theaters. Del Toro's name had guaranteed Pan's Labyrinth—a terrific film, if you've never seen it—a theatrical run, but almost no one outside New York or L.A. had seen The Lives of Others before the envelope was opened on Oscar night.
Cue this year's Oscar winner, the Argentinean thriller The Secret in Their Eyes, which came out of left field to beat Michael Heneke's The White Ribbon and the brutal French prison picture A Prophet. Juan José Campanella's film is quite good and nicely reminiscent of the American political thrillers that came out of the 1970s, but it didn't impress me as much as those other films.
More than two decades are spanned in The Secret in Their Eyes. The celebrated actor Ricardo Darín is Benjamín Esposito, a recently retired judicial investigator who visits his old boss, Irene Menéndez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil), in 1999 to discuss his next endeavor—a novel based upon a case they shared in 1974. She's thrilled to see him but skeptical of his plans to relive the past, which is told in flashback. After all, it was horrific, a newlywed wife raped and murdered. There's a suspect, Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), but he quickly vanished, and despite the protests of Benjamín and his drunken partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), the case is closed. Why, Irene asks him, does he want to revisit those dark days?
As the story plays out, we discover that she has other reasons why she'd prefer it if Benjamín took up golf over fiction writing. The two were attracted to one another, way back when, and this was the case that brought them together and also set them apart. Esposito petitioned to have the case reopened after running into the dead woman's husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), at a bus station, where he waits, every day, for her killer to show himself. Touched by the depths of his love, he turns to Irene to deal with the paperwork, a decision that could bring violence and reprisals against each of them.
Now, The Secret in Their Eyes is well made—there's one sequence in particular, a shot that must take two minutes, that goes down in a football (soccer to you gringos) stadium packed with thousands of screaming fans, as Benjamín and Pablo finally corner the alleged bad guy. It's generally taut, well-written and well-shot, and even though you can see the final twist coming from six miles away, it's nice to watch it unfold. The acting work is solid, and there are double meanings everywhere. Benjamín is an expert in those, able to ferret out what someone truly means by watching their eyes rather than listening to their words. Campanella offers that lesson early in the film, and for the viewer, it's worth taking to heart, because the film's actual secret has little to do with the murder, the missing suspect and the events of the past. It has everything to do with Benjamín and Irene's unrequited longing for one another and a murdered woman's husband. Despite everything they do and say, you see their secret, in their eyes. Some may look at that last statement and call it a spoiler, but I'd prefer to think of it as insight, because Campanella never tips his hand.
So, by all means, see it. It's worth of your time. But then watch The White Ribbon and decide for yourself if The Secret in Their Eyes is worthy of its Oscar.
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