One day in my teens, I was watching a film retrospective on television; during the program clips were shown from F.W. Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece, “Nosferatu.” I immediately took a trip down to the video store in my neighborhood, found it, and rented it. From the first frame to the last I sat entranced at what I was viewing, and from that day forth I’ve been hooked on foreign cinema. The subject of this week’s blog is the 2009 Argentinean film “The Secret in Their Eyes.” Directed and written by Juan Jose Campanella (Son of the Bride) based upon the book “La Pregunta de Sus Ojos” written by Eduardo Sacheri, who also co-wrote the script. It is a crime thriller that took home the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd annual Academy Awards.
The role of Benjamin Esposito, portrayed in a true to life manner by actor Ricardo Darin, (Carancho) is that of a retired Argentinean federal justice who is writing a novel about a case that two decades later still perplexes him. He begins to play out his memories of the events that surrounded the case. By doing this Esposito begins a journey down a path that gives him a greater clarity as to the truth of why certain things transpired the way they did and what happened to a particular individual who is central to the crime. The case involves the vicious rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, played in flashback sequences in her debut role by Carla Quevedo. The aftermath of the terrible crime leaves Liliana’s grieving husband Ricardo, portrayed in a haunting performance by Pablo Rago, (Belgrano) to conduct his own investigation into trying to catch the killer. The movie shifts effortlessly from present to past to present again in a style, that causes no confusion.
In the scenes of the film that deal with the past, the viewer learns that Esposito had the help of both his assistant, Sandoval, a hardcore drunk who demonstrates flashes of intellectual genius in the film, adroitly acted by Guillermo Francella (Marziano’s), and their immediate superior, Irene Hastings, convincingly played by Soledad Villamil (Red Bear). Initially, Esposito thinks that he has in custody not one, but two killers who committed the crime, but he quickly ascertains that the real killer is still on the loose. Thereafter, he spends the greater part of the remainder of the film attempting to track down his lead suspect who seems to come and go unseen at will as if he were an actual phantom. This movie never delves into the supernatural, so the suspect is not a ghost, but rather a flesh and blood man played to sleazy perfection by Javier Godino (Deception).
Coinciding with his search for the killer, Esposito comes to terms with the fact that he is in love with Irene, even though he knows that she is engaged to be married to another man. Not only is the engagement an obstacle to his pursuit of her, but also his station in life and background, he feels, are much too beneath hers for her to get involved with a man such as himself. Benjamin allows his heart’s passion to fall by the wayside, and avoids showing his feelings to Irene. In the present day, the two treat one another as old friends, and Esposito seeks Irene’s input regarding the novel he is working on. They both are displeased with the manner in which the case ended.
This is a piece of cinema that truly is tied to its title. There are countless films I can think of where the dialogue the characters are speaking is sometimes slightly different, and other times radically different, from what they are really trying to convey. It happens all the time, but this film takes it a step further. In this movie the implications of what is really meant is being expressed more so through the character’s eyes than their words…And the scenes that were shot between Esposito and Hastings made for particularly powerful use of this technique.
I often hear the complaint from individuals who don’t like foreign films that the reason for that is because the subtitles move too fast. I will agree with you if you have that mindset, but only up to a certain point. If you go out to the movies and are sitting and watching a foreign film in the theater you might miss something because the words are moving too fast, but in the comfort of your own home you have the wonderful invention of the pause button on the remote. If you’re a fan of films in general, but normally don’t see foreign movies, make an exception in this case. It is an all encompassing piece of cinema that is rich in story, engrossing, well acted, thoroughly entertaining, and will keep you guessing as to its ultimate outcome until the end. See for yourself why Argentina was given the honor of being the only Latin American country to ever win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film twice, the other winner was the 1985 movie “The Official Story.”