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The Secret in Their Eyes
UKScreen Rating:

The Secret in Their Eyes – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In 1974, a young woman is brutally raped and murdered in her home. As Benjamin (Ricardo Darin) attempts to solve the case, he is struck by the subsequent mental devastation that befell the victim’s husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago). Like Morales, he becomes obsessed by the case.

Benjamin and his quirky partner, Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), identify and track down the suspect, Gomez (Javier Godino), and with the help of their recently appointed superior, Irene (Soledad Villamil), secure his confession. But since Argentina is mired in political corruption, Gomez is prematurely released and joins the repressive secret police.

Benjamin’s angry protest puts his life at risk, and eventually he is forced to run, leaving behind his beloved Irene, with whom has been secretly in love.

25 years later, just after his retirement, Benjamin, decides to write a novel about the case, which still haunts him. He seeks Irene’s help and embarks on a new journey to uncover the fate of the killer and the victim’s wife.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

In old age, we conjure up the memories of the past in order to fill the emptiness of the present. Benjamin’s quest to write a novel was not merely to tell a story, imbued with suspense and mystery, but to heal bleeding wounds that were still troubling his mind and agonising his heart.

This film is not solely about a murder case, but also about love and loss, and their effect on the human soul.
Morales explicitly expresses his love to his murdered wife by pouring his wounded heart on the screen and describing his life after her death as “Life filled with emptiness. It’s worse than death.”

Benjamin, on the other hand, never had the chance to declare his love to Irene. We could sense his frustration, but we also understand his inhibitions. In one perplexing scene, the police commander reminds him that he is nobody next to her. She comes from the Argentinean social elite with a law degree from Harvard, and he is only a court clerk without college education. Indeed, in the seventies, during the military dictatorship in Argentina, someone like Benjamin could be squashed like an ant for no reason and without any consequence.

Benjamin’s hopelessness and despair are exasperated by Morales’s inconsolable misery. His unwavering determination to find the culprit boils onto an obstinate – and perilous obsession. But when he finds justice, the corrupt system robs it away from him and punishes him harshly.

Benjamin is a classic Kafkaesque character, the powerless man facing and then being crushed by the uncompromising beaucracy and absolute power of a military regime. His conflicts are real and his predicaments are tragic. His relationship with the other characters: the implicit love to Irene, the care for drunkard Sandoval, and the compassion for miserable Morales, enhances his humanity and fragility.

“The Secret in Their Eyes” is not all doom and gloom. It’s speckled with sharp, witty and humorous dialogue and a light-hearted performance from the Argentinean comedian, Guillermo Francella, evoking cheers and laughs. Ricardo Darin delivers a mesmerising performance, as he inhabits the troubled Benjamin and convincingly ages 25 years. His interaction with Soledad Villamil is touching, suspenseful and electrifying, as they speak their love silently in their faces and eyes without ever verbalising or acting it.

Campanella utilises fluid editing and different lensing in order to smoothly paddle between past and present, and memory and reality. He uses wide lenses for scenes from the present, lending it a sense of realism and uses longs lenses for scenes from the past, giving it a dreamy look. He also manipulates the size of different objects in the frame, emulating selective memory. Objects look larger and dominate the picture according to their dominance in the character’s memory.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film is the camera swooping over a football stadium, filled with a huge crowd and zooming into a close up of Benjamin, and then following him as he finds and chases Gomez through the crowd and into corridors and toilets.

“The Secret in Their Eyes” is a masterpiece of film making, with stunning visuals, arresting performances, compelling characters, impressive production design and thought provoking story. It offers suspense, thrill, romance and even comedy.

It dwells on loneliness, love, retributions, punishment and emptiness. At the end of the film, Benjamin asks “How do you live a life that is filled with emptiness?” Well, the film is longer than 2 hours, but it’s certainly not filled with emptiness.

“The Secret in Their Eyes” was the 2010 Oscar winner in the foreign language category.

Opens nationwide 13th August 2010

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