Secret in Their Eyes, The (2009)

Review #1,635

Director:  Juan José Campanella
Cast:  Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella
Plot:  A retired legal counselor writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases and for his unreciprocated love with his superior - both of which still haunt him decades later.

Genre:  Drama / Mystery 
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  129 mins
Rating:  M18 (passed clean) for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language
International Sales:  Latido Films

“A guy can change anything.  His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God.  But there's one thing he can't change.  He can't change his passion...”

I remembered this film to be the one that ‘stole’ the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film away from firm favourite, The White Ribbon, by Michael Haneke.  Perhaps voters were torn between Haneke’s film and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, two of the strongest titles in the shortlist, which also included Golden Berlin Bear winner, The Milk of Sorrow, and Cannes Camera d’Or (Special Mention) winner, Ajami, leaving Argentina’s The Secret in Their Eyes to capitalise on the uncertainty.  

Nine years later, I had the chance to see it for the first time on the big screen as part of the Argentine Film Festival (despite having numerous opportunities to catch it on DVD).  I must say that it is an excellent film, as Oscar-worthy as its counterparts, and it is that rare breed of mystery-thriller that you will remember long after you exit the theatre.  No wonder there was a Hollywood remake in 2015 with big stars, though the less said about it the better.

Based on a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Juan José Campanella (whose prolific television work far overwhelms his forays into feature filmmaking), The Secret in Their Eyes is a twisting-and-turning tale of Benjamin (Ricardo Darin), a retired legal counselor who is in the midst of writing a fiction book that he hopes would provide him with the closure that he desperately seeks after an unresolved homicide case from decades ago continues to haunt him.  

Together with Irene (Soledad Villamil), his ex-supervisor whom he was infatuated with when he was still working, they revisit the memories of their colleagues (one of them, Pablo, played by Guillermo Francella who delivers an outstanding deadpan performance) and the controversial circumstances surrounding the aforementioned case.  

Dovetailing with incredible ease between present scenes and the past (which could be what had happened or a fictionalised version of memories), The Secret in Their Eyes is terrifically well-constructed, combining the thrills of cinema (one has to experience a lengthy midway sequence set in a stadium amid a live football match) with the exquisite layering of a novella.  

Campanella uses misdirection cleverly, often taking advantage of the dexterity and imagination of the cinematic medium to pull off what I would describe as the intricacies and fidelities of a print-to-screen (or memory/screen-to-print) adaptation.  In that regard, one could almost feel like it is an unorthodox procedural.

Verdict:  The 2010 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Feature is a well-constructed mystery-thriller that combines the thrills of cinema with the exquisite layering of a novella.





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