The Secret In Their Eyes

The Secret In Their Eyes is a richly complex and subtle 2009 thriller from Argentina, beautifully directed by Juan José Campanella and played with skill and verve by Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil in particular, though there is not a weak link in the cast that I spotted.  Evidence indeed that viewers should never be put off by subtitles, though it will be of no surprise to anyone that 2015 will see a Hollywood remake.  No doubt production values will be high but I weep for Americans who would sooner wait for an English language version starring familiar actors than the brilliant original.

The DVD jacket describes the movie as a:

“stunning edge-of-your-seat cinematic tour de force of nail-biting suspense and white-knuckle excitement”

…though frankly that misrepresents the nature of the film, of which more anon.  Having said that, while this is not an all-action thriller there are several chilling moments: the gripping chase for they key suspect through a packed football stadium with the cameraman and crew in hot pursuit with hand-held camera; the interrogation of said suspect as he is goaded beyond endurance; and a silent scene during a lift ride in which the tension pulsates without anything actually happening.

That is the mark of superb direction and acting. What is even more remarkable is that the many sections concentrating on the thought processes and emotions of the characters are, if anything, the more beguiling – and how often can you say that?

What makes this such a complex and rewarding watch, and indeed winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Movie in 2009, is less to do with intricate plotting, though a couple of the twists are ingenious; much more, this is a movie about the powerful depths and intricacies of human relationships, woven around the nature of justice and time, plus the twin themes of obsession and loss.

This is that rare commodity, a movie of genuine intelligence, comprising three dimensional characters who communicate at multiple levels and much left unspoken – to great effect.

The Secret in their Eyes is for the most part a brooding, slow-moving but intense study of the aftermath of a brutal rape and murder, seen through the eyes of a middle-ranking criminal prosecutor (Darin) in 1974 and 25 years later as he researches the case in order to write a novel after his retirement, which leads him to delve deeper and not to accept the stories told.  The answer is more horrific than he could ever realise.

In the process he reignites the smouldering but unconsummated passion he had for his then boss Irene Hastings (Villamil), and indeed his curiosity about the husband of the victim Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) and the circumstances of the death of his drunken but occasionally brilliant colleague Pedro Sandoval (Guillermo Francella.)

The time gaps (with the help of excellent make-up) in the film allow perspectives to be adjusted and sharper focus to be established about a case that, while comparatively simple in terms of investigation is obstructed through officialdom, egos and revenge, such that justice is not achieved through the courts.

There is much ambivalence about this process, frustration visible through the lack of ability to act or find proof.  Perhaps the virtues of patience are underplayed, but this is a quality contrary to the instant gratification sought in Hollywood, all the more interesting to see the tack taken in the remake – though I sincerely hope it will be true to Campanella’s bold and lush original.

And the ending?  Well you might guess the denouement, but unlike quite a number of movies declaring themselves to be thrillers, the satisfaction rating does not depend on having your expectations turned on their heads in the final reel – but the bittersweet moment is only one component of a fine cinematic experience.

If you are a fan of quality film-making and all that is right about movies, I urge you to see the original, subtitles and all.  It is a gem, and deserves praise for its own virtues.  Viva Argentinian cinema for showing Hollywood how it should be done!

PS.  I’m greatly saddened though not at all surprised to learn thati the Hollywood remake of this film made it on to at least one worst film list, in the same way I view remakes like The Jackal and The Vanishing to be gross aberrations and an insult to the genius of the original movies.  My advice is always to watch the original with subtitles to get the best experience.

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