Published on November 24th, 2013 | by Apuntes LJ0
The Secret in Their Eyes
A Review of the 2009 Argentinian Film
This review of the movie El Secreto de Sus Ojos was translated, with the author’s permission, from Jorge Ruffinelli’s América Latina en 130 Películas, published by Uqbar Editores.
Director Juan José Campanella tells viewers, in the movie’s first images, which stories he is going to tell us and which he is not. The first plot line is about the sentimental novel that Benjamín Espósito, a retired federal justice agent, plans to write. He wants to exorcise the bloody rape and murder of a young woman, an unresolved case that has obsessed him for almost half a century. A parallel plot line is the story of Benjamín’s unrequited love for his former boss, now a federal judge. The first plot line, as in a sitcom, will not be narrated. But the second plot line, which inspires the first, will be.
A different and somber plot line is that of the thriller, related to the murder case, which has tragic results for Benjamín: the death of his friend Sandoval, and his exile to Jujuy (a province in the extreme northwest of Argentina). And the final plot line is historical, the story of the Argentina of the 1970s, starting with the rise to power of Isabel Perón, whose regime unleashed one of the most horrific “dirty wars” in the history of the country.
Some point out as a defect or error that “The Secret in Their Eyes” has several endings, not realizing that the movie must close out several plot lines successively. The story lines and the spectator need those closures, and Campanella executes them satisfactorily. In his long career, the famed director has filmed romantic comedies and police dramas, as well as being responsible for several episodes of the American television series “Law and Order.” Campanella knows how to narrate, but what neither he nor other film-makers had previously accomplished so successfully was the mixing of the two genres in one movie that exudes life and authenticity precisely because it deals with all their tonalities.
“The Secret in Their Eyes” is, above all, a love story. Or several love stories. The eyes are those of Irene Menéndez, which according to the title of the original novel, are continuously asking what Benjamín finally answers at the end. The film is also the story of the widowed husband’ love for his assassinated wife, which, as Benjamín remarks several times, is unprecedented in one person, having such tenacity, radicalism, and purity. And the eyes are also those of the assassin, who looks with cryptic desire at a photograph of his future victim.
But since the film is a “movie” love story, Campanella manages to introduce key elements of romantic comedy, like that “Should I close the door?” from Irene every time Benjamín comes to her office, as she is not sure when he is finally going to reveal his feelings for her. Or the missing “A” in the typewriter that makes Benjamín misspell a word when, half asleep, he jots down a word in his notepad so he will not forget it by the time he wakes up. Those small details are little games, but of such little games is daily life made up.
Campanella and his splendid technical and artistic team know they are filming fiction with a taste of reality. And in that sense, critics and viewers alike do not tire of remembering some of most the terrifying sequences ever, either from film noir or from romantic comedies. The stadium sequence is unparalleled, not only in Argentine or Spanish moviemaking, but among the best in the world. Some of the sequences are technical marvels; others are acting masterpieces.
The almost private scene in which Irene and Benjamín share an elevator with the assassin, who, knowing he is beyond their reach, slowly loads and unloads his gun, is unique. The same can be said about the “interrogation” sequence. All the scenes with the extraordinary actor Guillermo Francella, who plays Benjamín’s friend Sandoval in a career-first type of role, are simultaneously contained and exuberant, real acting clinics. Nothing is squandered in the scenes where he answers the phone, or when he decides to sacrifice his life for his friend.
The acting of Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil in the starring roles, as well as that of Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, and José Luis Gioia in secondary roles, is simply extraordinary. The cinematography of Félix Monti and music by Federico Jusid are perfect.
The ambiguity of the movie’s name is consistent with the different plot lines in this beautiful and tragic film, which so masterfully plays with the “eyes” of its protagonists. The “eyes” are clear indicators of their desires, hopes, and frustrations, which lead to the closing of the various plot lines. The closings fascinate the viewer, who meanwhile wishes that the movie will not end. Or at least that Campanella will continue bringing us movies as charming and seductive as this one.
El Secreto de Sus Ojos is available on Netflix
América Latina en 130 documentales (Spanish Edition), by Jorge Ruffinelli (May 2013). The Kindle Edition is available on Amazon.com
América Latina en 130 películas (Spanish Edition), by Jorge Ruffinelli (2010), paperback and Kindle editions are available on Amazon.com