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The Independent Critic

Soledad Villamil, Ricardo Darin, Carla Quevedo, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella
Juan Jose Campanella
Rated R
127 Mins.
Sony Classics
Commentary with Director Juan Jose Campanella
Behind the Scenes of The Secret in Their Eyes
Casting The Secret in Their Eyes

 "The Secret in Their Eyes" Review 
There are two things you should know about The Secret in Their Eyes, an Argentinian film written and directed by Juan Jose' Campanella based upon a novel by Eduardo Sacheri:

  1. The Secret in Their Eyes received the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, to the surprise of many whom thought, perhaps, that the actual best foreign language film might win the award.
  2. The Secret in Their Eyes, definitely a good film, is by no means the best foreign language film from 2009. Period.
The Secret in Their Eyes is a good film, a solid mystery thriller centering around the 25-year-old rape and murder of a 23-year-old schoolteacher. Notice I used the phrase "centering around" as opposed to "about," because while this long unresolved rape and murder merely serves as the thread that weaves together the lives of her surviving husband, Ricardo (Pablo Rago), investigating detective Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), Esposito's assistant (Guillermo Francella), Esposito's superior (Soledad Villamil) and the suspected killer, Gomez (Javier Godino).

There are moments of pure cinematic bliss in The Secret in Their Eyes, moments in which you sit there thinking "Wow, I really get why this film won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar."

Then, there are those moments in the film in which everything screeches to a grinding halt and it becomes abundantly clear that The Secret in Their Eyes captured the award because it was the most easily understood, accessible of the 2009 nominees.

Perhaps one of the strangest decisions in The Secret in Their Eyes is to make the film as much about an unspoken affection between Esposito, a ruggedly handsome yet working class detective, and his boss, Irene, an American whose Ivy League education is but one indicator of her being beyond his reach. While there's nothing particularly wrong with this storyline and, indeed, both Darin and Villamil project the rather forbidden dance quite nicely, it at times feels awkward as we travel back and forth between flashbacks to the murder scene, the rape, the investigation, the complete lack of justice and so on. It becomes abundantly clear rather quickly that The Secret in Their Eyes is, in fact, about the secret that we all hold within our eyes whether that secret be good or bad or love or evil. So, rather than being a straightforward crime thriller, The Secret in Their Eyes is much more a psychological thriller evolving around a heinous crime for which justice is seemingly never obtained.

Detective Darin decides to revisit the case upon his retirement, an attempt to write a long desired novel and, perhaps, exorcise some demons from never having brought to justice the one whom everyone knows is guilty of the murder. Give Campanella credit, as well, for interspersing the entire thing with comic relief courtesy of Esposito's cohort, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), Esposito's most trusted confidante and simultaneously an obvious alcoholic whose drinking will most likely be his undoing. While at first glance Sandoval's appearance feels jarring, rather quickly his presence becomes a welcome relief from the film's palpable suspense and regularly interspersed flashbacks of intense violence and emotion.

The beauty, perhaps even mastery, of The Secret in Their Eyes, is in the complex make-up in which the characters themselves live, even if Campanella does occasionally lose control of the varied pieces and allows the film to meander a bit too often.

As the detective seeking justice within an unjust system, Ricardo Darin daringly plays Esposito as one would believe an old, retired and crusty detective to be...immense, unresolved emotions bubbling underneath the surface long held within and, now that life has actually slowed down, they are rising to the surface. Between his attempts to find peace with an unresolved case and his own battle to overcome what could best be described as a case of institutionally reinforced low self-esteem, Darin's Esposito is mesmerizing.

Similarly, Soledad Villamil smartly portrays Irene as a woman who sees herself as living within the system but not necessarily as part of the system. While she's occasionally called upon to go just a touch over-the-top with her investigative work, nonetheless, Villamil herself keeps it real and her hints of passion within the professional facade are spot on perfect.

As the suspected rapist/murderer with enough political connections to keep himself practically untouchable, Javier Godino is a creepy mix of smarmy confidence with a sort of Patrick Bateman swagger, though, much like Villamil, he is occasionally called upon to stretch the limits of believability.

The camera work by Felix Monti is stellar, including a couple of scenes that will leave you completely breathless and wondering "How did he possibly do that?" Indeed, I still don't know. Tech credits across the board are top notch.

For this critic's money, The White Ribbon was unquestionably 2009's Best Foreign Language Film while The Secret in Their Eyes a worthy nominee and a memorable film from writer/director Juan Jose Campanella.

The Secret in Their Eyes opens in Indianapolis on May 14th at Keystone Art Cinema as part of its nationwide limited release with distributor Sony Classics. The 127-minute film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic