The Secret in Their Eyes
The 2010 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film “The Secret in Their Eyes” is best described as a cross between a “Law & Order” episode, a memory piece, a romance, a comedy and a revenge melodrama. It is a compelling story with a very fine sense of how past and present inform one another. The film also intelligently questions how healthy it is for a person’s sanity to become too involved with the past.
Retired Argentinian Federal Justice Agent Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is writing a novel based on a 20-year-old rape and murder case with which he was involved but that was not resolved satisfactorily. In his re-investigation he comes face to face with issues and people from the long ago case, especially his department Chief Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil) still on the job. Esposito, always attracted to Menendez-Hastings, never pursued her romantically due to the differences in their ages and social classes.
The film’s flashback sequences show the trajectory of the case and the relationships between Esposito, Menendez-Hastings and fellow investigator Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella). In an interesting photographic choice the past and present sequences all have the same look, as opposed to, for example, muted colors for one and brighter colors for the other. The consistency in look for past and present has the effect of having us focus on the characters, especially their faces, to know the time period of a particular sequence. The same actors play their characters in the present and in the past. Their hair, make up and clothes are adjusted accordingly depending on the time period. The changes in look never feel forced or contrived as can sometimes happen with flashback sequences. The story is well told in a manner which is intriguing and at points keeps the audience appropriately off balance.
Ultimately “The Secret in Their Eyes” is about passion. Almost every character in the film has something about which they are passionate. The theme takes on different shades as the characters’ loves and obsessions pull the story in interesting directions. In fact at one point the hard drinking Pablo Sandoval has a short speech about his love for getting drunk in dive bars that is effective, memorable and firmly establishes the film’s theme of passion. Ultimately memory, passion and love all culminate in a resolution that is simultaneously disturbing, thought provoking and satisfying.
The Secret in Their Eyes, Director Juan Jose Campanella, 2009
127 minutes, rated R