The Secret In Their Eyes
Love, regret and 2nd chances. What more do you want from a film?
When this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar went to Argentinian thriller The Secret in Their Eyes over German misanthrope Michael Haneke’s latest snooze-fest The White Ribbon there were gasps of shock and outrage from film snobs around the world. After all Haneke’s plotless, pointless parable on the birth of Nazism had won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It won the Golden Globe (always a good barometer of Oscar glory). It had sent audiences to sleep around the world. It was bleak. It was ponderous. It was worthy. And it was black and white. How could it fail?
Stylish and intelligent, The Secret In Their Eyes is everything The White Ribbon wasn’t; a subtle, moving thriller that satisfies both intellectually and emotionally. Retired investigator Benjamin (Ricardo Darin) is writing a book about the case that’s haunted him for 25 years, a fictionalised account of his investigation into the brutal rape and murder of a young bride, a crime where the murderer escaped justice thanks to some dodgy government ties. His research brings him back into contact with his former boss and unrequited love Irene (the sparkling Soledad Villamil) and the still-grieving husband of the murdered girl (Pablo Rago). As he tries to bring closure to the case and finally bring to justice the killer who has eluded him half his life, Benjamin finds that time doesn’t always heal and that sometimes keeping old wounds fresh is the only way to keep going.
Working equally well as a police procedural as it does a middle-aged romance, The Secret in Their Eyes is unafraid to confront Argentina’s history of political corruption and brutality, director Juan Jose Campanella effortlessly weaving together two disparate timelines, framing the police procedural of the film’s central mystery against the paranoid, violent, political upheaval of 1970s Buenos Aries while Benjamin’s more personal, melancholic quest for resolution takes place in the recent past, his journey from darkness and fear through regret and finally to hope emblematic of Argentina’s own journey from terror.
A veteran director of American TV cop shows, Campanella displays a light, sure touch and despite the odd bravura flourish, a tense chase through a packed football stadium is a particular highlight, he never allows the action or the convoluted plot to get in the way of his characters, a collection of flawed but fundamentally decent people briefly brought together by a horrific act of violence that comes to shape the rest of their lives. Intricately plotted, The Secret In Their Eyes juggles its multiple storylines and flashbacks to create a thriller that is at least as concerned with the spiritual and emotional fallout of murder as it is with the more conventional whodunit aspects of the story.
As Benjamin, Ricardo Darin brings a crumpled nobility to the role. Wearing the mistakes and regrets of a lifetime on his face, the always excellent Darin is an all too vulnerable and human hero; a tired, middle-aged man trying to make sense of the path his life has taken and what it has cost him. Soledad Villamil is elegant and luminous as Irene, Benjamin’s boss and the love of his life and the scenes between the two sparkle; as young co-workers their flirtation is a verbal sparring match crackling with barely repressed sexual tension, meeting again years later their scenes have a melancholic warmth, each conversation tinged with the sadness and regret of missed opportunities. Their slow-burn romance across the decades is the engine that drives the film, their humanity pulling you through the film’s darkest episodes. They are ably supported by Guillermo Francella’s comic turn as Benjamin’s alcoholic partner and Pablo Rago as the murdered girl’s grieving husband while Javier Godino’s swaggering murderer is an arrogant thug given free reign to indulge his baser instincts by a corrupt state.
Gripping and poignant, The Secret In Their Eyes is a stylish meditation on guilt, loss, regret and the obsessive power of love masquerading as a murder-mystery. The true mystery Benjamin cannot fathom at the centre of the film is the human heart, the resolution he’s seeking an emotional one. A stunning, beautiful film that sucks you in and lingers in the memory The Secret In Their Eyes is a rich, rewarding cinematic experience.
Juan Jose Campanella
Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino
Juan Jose Campanella based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri
Spanish with English subtitles