Review: The Secret In Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)

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The Pitch: “The past is never dead, it is not even past.” – William Faulkner

The Review: Much consternation was made about last year’s Foreign Language Oscar. For once, people weren’t able to moan about the main award as it was generally accepted the right decision had been made, so most of the contention occurred around the decision to ignore A Prophet and The White Ribbon, not to mention Ajami and The Milk of Sorrow, and give the award to an unheralded Argentinian film. Seemingly most of that contention arose out of the fact that few people had seen it, but both Jacques Audiard and Michael Haneke’s movies were being touted as modern classics. Surely we couldn’t have been blessed with a third in the same year?

This, as it turns out, is certainly fit to stand in the same company. It’s a story of regret, and being unable to gain closure on the past – a past which has a traumatic series of events at its core. Ricardo Darin plays the legal counsellor who investigates the brutal murder in the Seventies, but more than twenty years later pours his retirement into writing a memoir of the events, and finds himself slowly revisiting the events with his former department chief, played by Soledad Villamil. As the story unfolds, predominantly in flashback to the time after the murder, we are fed the details of the case, but what’s causing Darin’s Benjamin Esposito to still cling to the past so incessantly is initially unclear.

The actors are all required to play a double role here, both past and present, and all acquit themselves admirably, Darin especially not only taking on physical changes, but managing to channel both the ebullience and determination of the younger man, but also the regret, tinged with layers of sadness, of his elder counterpart. The dialogue often crackles as the investigation unfolds, men not afraid to pull their punches but also having to fight for their position. As the events play out, it’s evident that this is not as clear cut as your average American crime drama would be, as the political system puts as many obstacles in the way as the lack of leads, which gives it a refreshing advantage over other crime tales. It’s also clear that it’s not just the events of the crime that Esposito is unable to put behind him, but his unreciprocated feelings towards his superior, obvious to all of his colleagues at the time, and helping to give a deeper emotion to the events of the past.

While the screenplay is excellent, the cinematography is also worthy of mention, giving a different feel to the two eras to aid our transition, and managing one stunning single shot as the counsellors close in on their man. Throughout, there’s an ambiguity to events which allows you to remain sympathetic to the characters but still leaves you guessing about the final outcome – safe to say, when it arrives you may not see it coming. The structured narrative is also more effective, allowing the poignancy of the later events to be emphasised by the time that has passed without the closure that Esposito continues to seek. Overall, this may not quite be the equal of The White Ribbon, but it does deserve mention in the same breath and it would be hard to deny such a complete and satisfying piece of cinema the awards it’s received.

Why see it at the cinema: There’s a strong visual sense throughout the movie, but the single tracking shot at the stadium, starting way up then sweeping into the crowd and through the tunnels in a seemingly unbroken move, demands viewing on the biggest screen you can find.

The Score: 9/10

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