Old 05-21-2010, 12:03 AM
Juan José Campanella's The Secret in Their Eyes

Here's the link to the published version of the review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



The Secret in Their Eyes (2010)

One of the big shocks of the Oscars this year came when Juan José Campanella's "The Secret in Their Eyes" beat out the front-runner, Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," the film that had won top honors at the Cannes Film Festival, to win Best Foreign Language Film. Campanella's film hadn't been heard about very much in the states prior to the ceremony, but now, thanks to its Oscar win, it's getting the release it deserves.

The film centers on Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), a retired assistant to a judge's assistant. He wants to write a book about a tragic case involving the rape and murder of a woman back in 1974. The film jumps back and forth between present day and the events following the murder. In present day, Benjamin reignites his relationship with his former boss, Irene (Soledad Villamil). There is an obvious spark between the two that becomes clearer as we learn of their past.

In 1974, a pair of suspects is arrested, but Benjamin doesn't believe they are the ones responsible. The husband of the victim, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), is questioned, but is believed not to have committed the crime either. Thanks to some old photo albums, Benjamin notices that there is a man, Isidoro Gómez (Javier Godino), staring at the victim in several pictures, which leads him to attempt to track him down with the help of his co-worker, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), an alcoholic. However, whenever they seem to be getting close to their suspect, he seems to have just slipped away.

This is one of those films that takes a little while to get into. It asks that you be patient as we first meet the characters in present day, not knowing much of their relationship in the past. Then we slowly get to know Benjamin and the impact that this case had on his life. His shocked expression as he sees the body of the young woman at the crime scene is merely the beginning.

There are a few times when he goes out on a limb for this case; things he's probably never done before because he just doesn't seem like the type of person to do them. He's the kind of guy who sits quietly behind his desk, behind huge stacks of folders, taking orders, and thinking of a compliment for his boss, Irene. Whereas his partner is actually the type who always gets into trouble due to constantly getting drunk, yet he manages to come up with good sources of information at the same time.

It's written in such a way that certain conversations have major influence on the turn of events. The most insignificant sentences can hold clues to what will happen. The film slowly unfolds the events in order for us to take in these conversations that will play a major part later on. Not only that, but its pacing is just right for us to be able to connect with the characters and care about them.

The performances are very subtle from most of the cast, especially Ricardo Darín. As I mentioned, his character is mostly quiet, yet he is able to convey how tortured he is over this case as a young man following the clues and again as an older man who can't stop thinking about it. This obsession is what leads to his wanting to write the book about it, but it also becomes an excuse to meet up with Irene again after so many years. They admit they never talked about the case and that they don't know why, but now, many years later, they find themselves finally doing so.

I, for one, am glad that this film took the Best Foreign Language Oscar over "The White Ribbon." Both films are the kind that take awhile to get into, but Haneke's film took until near the end before I found myself getting into the mystery, whereas with Campanella's film, it didn't take nearly that long to become engaged in its story. It's been in a limited release in the states for about a month so far. If you can find it in a theater near you, it's definitely worth checking out. 3.5/4 stars.
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