The Secret in Their Eyes
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella
Director: Juan Jose Campanella
When The Secret in Their Eyes was named best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards earlier this year, it became only the second Argentinian film to have secured the accolade. The first was The Official Story, Luis Puenzo's 1984 piece about the consequences of Argentina's state-sponsored 'Dirty War' against dissidents in the 1970s and early 80s. Made nearly three decades apart, the two films seem markedly different: while Puenzo's film is overtly political, Juan Jose Campanella delivers something more akin to a genre film, as the director mixes the investigation of an unsolved murder with the resurgence of an unresolved romance.
Look closer, however, and The Secret in Their Eyes reveals itself as something more in line with Puenzo's film or many of the more cerebral Argentinian films (Marcelo Pineyro's Kamchatka, for example, or Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman), which have blazed trails on the film festival circuit in recent years. Centring on a protagonist's attempt to unearth suppressed memories and engage with them in a search for truth and closure, The Secret in Their Eyes is as much a commercial thriller as it is a metaphor for a country still haunted by its tumultuous years of officially sanctioned torture and disappearances, even 25 years after democracy was restored.
An adaptation of a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, the film unfolds as a flashback. In 1999, retired court investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin, above centre) tries to write a novel based on a real-life cold case he dealt with in 1974: a time when Argentina began its slide into social turmoil with Eva Peron's government initiating paramilitary warfare and 'assassination decrees' against what they saw as a left-wing insurrection. The case is a brutal rape and murder of a young schoolteacher which shocks Buenos Aires.
Fired up by both the grotesqueness of the killing and the determination of the dead woman's husband to find the killer, Esposito embarks on a quest to solve the case with the older and more jaded Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) and their young supervisor, Irene Menendez, Hastings (Soledad Villamil) - an upper-class rising star in the judicial system with whom Esposito is secretly in love.
Hopelessness reigns for Esposito's personal and professional aspirations, however. Just as he finds his craving for Irene an impossible dream - courtesy of the class differences between the pair - he also runs into nightmarish intrigue in his attempts to solve the murder.
As the story unfolds further, the bigger picture emerges and the political context becomes a force that threatens to thwart Esposito's search for justice. Such circumstances either drive people into submission or extreme acts: two paths vividly illustrated in how different characters react to a system that is caving in on them.
Campanella's film works on all levels, and offers a master class in balancing his desire for an exciting cinematic experience and the need to instil a profound, melancholic view of the real. It never resorts to easy articulation of the political and social issues at hand.
Darin's brilliantly underplayed performance as the anguished Esposito lets the message seep into the consciousness, and armed with equally deft performances from the rest of the cast and Campanella's remarkable direction, The Secret in Their Eyes is a searing film.
The Secret in Their Eyes opens today