In most of the films we watch, even in the case of the best ones, we can usually point out a number of strengths and weaknesses afterwards. Even for those that capture us from the very first scene, we are usually able to identify some flaws- either in the direction, gaps in the storyline, not so outstanding performances and so on. In the case of ‘The Secret in their Eyes’, I can hardly find any flaws. It is one of the few films I have ever seen in my life that satisfies almost every aspect of an excellent film experience. Surely one of the most captivating films in years, ‘The Secret in their Eyes’ is built upon deep secrets that desperately seek to be come to light.
Based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri and directed by Juan José Campanella, the film follows Benjamin Esposito, a retired federal justice agent, who decides to write a novel referring to an old murder and rape case, which he had passionately investigated many years ago. The case involved a pretty young girl being brutally raped and murdered and was an extremely sensitive, moving and meaningful case to him, which, unfortunately, remained unresolved back in the past. Now, years later, Benjamin stills looks for answers and in order to complete his book, he decides to ask from his ex-employer, Irene, with whom he has been deeply in love for years, to reopen the case.
Through constant flashbacks, the case which has been haunting Esposito’s life so irreparably is slowly unfolded in front of our eyes. The past helps us understand the present and the present inevitably leads us into the past. We witness a terrible crime, we get to know the tragic figure of the victim’s husband and follow his connection with Esposito, we share Esposito’s and Irene’s deep demand for restoring justice by punishing the murderer and we are exposed to a deep, undeniably true love. With the help of Campanella’s virtuosic direction we reflect on the meaning of justice, the possibilities of taking the law into one’s hands, we question the human nature, the good and the evil and as the film progresses we are painfully and slowly led to one of the most wonderfully given feelings of catharsis in modern cinema.
The Secret in their Eyes touches upon some of the most powerful existential questions: what is justice? What is the relationship between justice and the law? What is the role of morality in law making and criminal justice? In which cases is revenge justifiable? When does the law conflict with a person’s right to define and create their own terms of justice? All these questions keep coming up all the time and as we follow agonizing secrets being gradually revealed, we desperately long for justice and redemption.
Some of the film’s remarkable qualities are the relationships developed between the characters- the repressed and deep love between Esposito and Irene, the honest and true friendship between Esposito and his closest, devoted assistant Pablo, and the deep connection between Esposito and Ricardo –the victim’s husband-. The Secret in their Eyes is also built upon antinomies: Benjamin’s pure and deep love for Irene defined by romanticism and a true respect towards women is contrasted with the sick and brutal desire of the perpetrator for the victim, who ends up raping and killing the object of his desire. Two completely different attitudes to womankind shape eroticism in this film. The special connection between the two lead roles and the impact of Esposito’s veneration for Irene confirm that sometimes the greatest love stories and the deepest feelings stem from unfulfilled desires and not from a realised, sexual love.
The film is elegantly and powerfully directed by Campanella, who decided to base the storyline on a constant intersection of the present and the past via flashbacks, in order to shed light to causes, motives, desires and secrets. Atmospheric scenes, intense dialogues, elements of mystery and adventure, memorable sequences like the chase of the murderer in a football field, open and closed doors, close-up shots of puzzled stares and unresolved dilemmas are only some of the film’s highlights. A note of lyricism and a sense of subtlety render the film incredibly interesting and delightful to watch. Some unexpected plot twists, the emotional narrative staying powerful all the way through and the journey through redemption lift the film onto ultimate levels of dramaturgical perfection. Especially the end is one of the strongest and unforgettable ends experienced by the viewer in the history of cinema. The performances of Ricardo Darín (Esposito) and Soledad Villamil (Irene) are more than brilliant, a pure delight to watch. Both lead acts perfectly interpret two extremely interesting characters, two characters characterized by moral integrity, honesty, forcefulness and passion.
The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, awarded to the film in 2010 is possibly one of the most deservedly Oscars ever given, for which the Foreign Language Film category has to be proud of, but however not even enough to honour the excellence of this film which is probably extended far beyond awards. The excellence of this film is only felt deep inside our existence. As the film reaches its end, we are left speechless and certainly the end of the film is not the end of our internal journey to unspeakable truths. More accurately, it is a film that irrevocably marks what can be called a film experience and there is no doubt that no matter how many years may pass, its strong effect will not fade away . Engaging, pragmatic, lyric, surprising, intense and mesmerising, the ‘Secret in their Eyes’ is there to prove that real art still remains in modern cinematography.
*this review was published in Yuppee Online Magazine, on March 11, 2013