The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos)
Argentinean thriller is fluid, emotional, and engrossing.
Everyone expected this year’s Foreign Language Oscar to be a two horse race. It seemed an obvious contest between Michael Haneke’s mesmerising The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard’s flinty crime drama A Prophet. The surprise winner, of course, was Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes and it is easy to see why. This Argentinean thriller is a richly satisfying piece of storytelling, unashamedly old-fashioned in its film noir look and structure but also steeped in a wider social significance as the central character’s personal quest resonates with echoes of the country’s political past. There are hints of Polanski’s Chinatown, similarities to David Fincher’s Zodiac and affinities with The Lives Of Others in what is one of the year’s most beautifully executed films.
Ricardo Darin brings some of the world weary nobility of a Humphrey Bogart to the role of Benjamin Esposito, a recently retired prosecutor in Buenos Aires who has decided to write a book about an unsolved case that has haunted his memory. In 1974, a 23-year-old teacher is raped and murdered. It is a case he was reluctant to take but one he is unable to refuse after seeing the body and meeting the victim’s husband Ricardo (Pablo Rago). Rehashing the details for his book also gives Esposito the excuse to meet up with his old boss Irene (Soledad Villamil) who clearly retains a hold on his affections. The events and consequences of the past continue to imprint themselves on the present as Esposito resumes the hunt for the killer.
Like the very best of 1940s-style film noir, The Secret In Their Eyes glides elegantly between different time frames. The pace is fluid, the mystery is always engrossing and there is a real emotional heft to the story as we witness what happens to Esposito and Irene and how it still means so much to the tragic Ricardo. There is also a sense in which the case holds up a mirror to the corruption of the Argentinean justice system and the way that has scarred an entire generation.
The Secret In Their Eyes is an exceptional blend of clever whodunit, slow-burning romance and political commentary that gels into one of the finest foreign-language films of the year. Highly recommended.
GFT, Glasgow & Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 13 Aug.