Slough Cooperative Film Society Slough Cooperative Film Society

The Society has been showing the best of world and independent cinema in Slough for more than 60 years

3rd February 2011 WEST WING ARTS CENTRE

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
(El Secreto de Sus Ojos)

Spain/Argentina, 2009 129 mins

Ricardo Darín Benjamín Espósito Director Juan José Campanella
Soledad Villemil
Pablo Rago
Irene Menéndez Hastings
Ricardo Morales
Writer Eduardo Sacheri,
Juan José Campanella
Javier Godino Isidoro Gómez Cinematographer Félix Monti
Guillemo Francella Pablo Sandoval Editor Juan José Campanella


Music Federico Josid

Buenos Aires, the mid 1970s. Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), a deputy clerk at a criminal court, may be investigating the rape and murder of a beautiful young schoolteacher, but he has come to see in the intense love and loss of the victim's husband Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) a reflection of his own impossible longings for his new boss Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villemil), whose high social status, not to mention her engagement to another man, puts her out of the civil servant's league. Aided by his dipsomaniac assistant Pablo Sandoval (Guillemo Francella), Esposito relentlessly pursues his chief suspect Isidoro Gómez (Javier Godino), but the injustices of Argentina's political history will help Gomez evade his life sentence.

25 years later, a recently retired Espósito finds himself unable to forget, and so commences writing a novel-cum-memoir about the unresolved case. Turning for help to Irene (now a DA, married with children), and armed with a faulty old typewriter, he sets about finding the right beginning and ending to the "life full of nothing" that he, Morales and Gómez have all, in their different ways, shared ever since.

At the 2010 Academy Awards, Juan Jose Campanella's The Secret In Their Eyes was the surprise winner of the
Oscar for the year's Best Foreign Language Film over such big hitters as Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard's A Prophet. In fact Campanella's film has something in common with Haneke's, in that both feature an older man looking back upon unresolved crimes in his past and their relationship to the broader history of his nation - but here Haneke's sterile chill is replaced with a rich warmth and humour that are altogether more appealing.

The Secret In Their Eyes boasts a breathtaking central scene in which the camera swirls over, around, and through a football stadium as Espósito and Sandoval pursue their quarry amidst the crowds - all apparently shot in a single unbroken take. "There's too many people, this is impossible!" exclaims Espósito, and viewers can only agree, wondering how on earth this bravura sequence could ever have been orchestrated and carried out with such gripping fluidity. In fact fluidity of a more general kind characterises Campanella's deft handling of different timelines and multiple flashbacks, simultaneously driving both backwards and forwards to an ending that is as satisfying as it is unpredictable.

Campanella uses the twin genres of the thriller and the romance, as well as twin narratives of punishment eluded and love unfulfilled, to give vividly palatable form to his themes of memory, justice and loss. Despite the challenge of playing their characters over two different generations, the lead actors show incredible range, complementing their subtle dialogue with looks and gestures that are no less nuanced - in a film where what is unsaid or unseen is of crucial importance. Here Espósito's Olivetti, with its broken 'a' key, comes to encapsulate a story full of gaps, ellipses and missing parts, just waiting to be supplemented by the viewer's own fears and loves.

The Secret In Their Eyes will at the very least engross you with its excellent performances, intricate plotting, consummate filmmaking craft, and its narrative that dramatises the time frozen and justice suspended by Argentina's last military junta. Yet even as the film harks back to a traumatic past, it also looks forward to a better future, in a perfect merging of the personal and the political. For the real secret of this character-based mystery drama is that it is also a national epic.

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El Secreto de sus Ojos