The Secret in Their Eyes

El Secreto de sus Ojos

This is the film that beat A Prophet to the 2010 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and only the second Argentine film to win that category. It was a result that left a lot of critics surprised due to the strength of the competition.

Buenos Aires, retired legal investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is writing a book about a troubling case from 20 years previous in 1974, the investigation of a brutal murder-rape of a young and beautiful school teacher named Liliana Coloto. Esposito interrogates his memory to order events which involved his superior, Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil) and his drunken subordinate Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) battling institutional problems to establish the truth. As he writes the book he finds himself troubled even more the events and allows Hastings to read it to help solve the case and lay down memories and feelings.

With a plot like that you would be right in guessing that it is based on a novel, one of the same name written by Eduardo Sacheri.

Directed by Juan Jose Campanella, it is a mature, stately thriller about research and the examination of memory similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Is it better than A Prophet? Tough call because it is a well made film with an enjoyably twisting plot that keeps you guessing and having a satisfying end scene. I personally wasn’t gripped by an emotional intensity that A Prophet had due to the structure of the story.

Unlike similar films like Cache and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where characters are directly threatened, here the threat was mitigated by plot structure. This was more an exploration of how one character seeks to understand memories that are traumatic on a personal and national level.

Like many South American films, it deals with a history of dictatorship not directly but through a personal story. Politics is context. As we watch a murder-mystery unfold we see everything from the malaise of institutions, justice and bar-talk affected by the corruption and the political and cultural slide towards a junta.

I loved individual sequences such as a shot that zooms in from the sky into a football stadium onto Esposito. Another comes when Esposito tries to get evidence from a suspect’s house. The ambience of the street is done well with arpeggios being practiced on a piano in the background and a dog barking and his partner Sandoval goofing around. 

What really made this film for me were the relationships. The palpable love and longing between Hastings and Esposito only signalled by the eyes and a rose. The relationship between Esposito and bumbling partner Sandoval could be one of the great comedy detective duos as Esposito has to recover his partner from bars.

Which leads me to praise the performances. Ricardo Darin (From Nine Queens) as Esposito is brilliant, playing low-key, he is confident and funny but open to regret. Villamil is great as the love interest with her feminine gutsiness and winning smile. Guillermo Francella as Sandoval plays a sympathetic and hilarious drunk with fierce intelligence.

I recommend this film to anybody interested in mysteries. I felt it was a mature take on history whilst delivering a love story and giving an insight into a world wholly different to our own.

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