“The Secret in Their Eyes” (“El Secreto De Sus Ojos”) is a remarkably well-crafted whodunit spanning 25 years that drills deep into the nature of memory and longing.
The film, which won the Oscar earlier this year for Best Foreign Language Film, stars Ricardo Darin as Benjamin Esposito, a federal investigator in Buenos Aires assigned to look into the savage rape and murder of a beautiful newlywed.
The story, set against the backdrop of the Peronistas’ Dirty War that terrorized Argentinians in the mid 1970s, is told in a series of flashbacks as Esposito tries to recall precisely how the events unfolded for a novel he’s writing about the case. The whole exercise rekindles long-buried feelings for his former supervisor, Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil).
At the heart of “The Secret” are three men who deal with their deep desire for a woman in very different ways, none of them healthy. Along the way are meditations on the nature of memory, the relative merits of looking forward vs. looking back and how pettiness can hamstring justice.
Considering how sad, tragic and bleak the film is at times, it’s surprisingly funny, with much of the humor provided by Esposito’s friend and colleague Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), a hopeless drunk with a keen sense of humanity. Sandoval possesses a self-awareness that allows him to remain a valuable sidekick, and Francella does a nice job of keeping his dignity intact.
Darin’s long face and sad eyes perfectly convey the fatigue, stress and longing that gnaw at him seemingly every day. He also wields a flair for wit, profanity and rage that make him a force to be reckoned with. And hats off to the make-up department that made the quarter-century of aging that Esposito goes through look totally believable.
Director Juan José Campanella, who also adapted the screenplay from Eduardo Sacheri’s novel “The Question in Their Eyes,” moves his camera artfully throughout the film. His long, fast-paced tracking shots through the courthouse hallways are impressive, as is his eye for setting his camera far back from the action, at low angles or shooting off-center to move your eyes around the screen and take in all the action.
Campanella’s screenplay is as strong as his direction. The film opens with Esposito making several false starts at his own version of events; it’s a clever form of foreshadowing that simultaneously talks about how difficult it can be to get into a memory or story. By turns funny, tragic, scary and shocking, even coming in at 129 minutes, there’s barely a scrap of fat on this tale. The narrative is constantly evolving, making a steady march toward its startling conclusion. That said, the very end of the film feels a bit false, but it's not egregious enough to take the shine of the film.
“The Secret in Their Eyes” is a taut murder mystery cum romance that cuts no corners as it moves seamlessly back and forth across 25 years in an effort to unearth the truth behind a horrible crime and the whereabouts of a monster.
"The Secret in Their Eyes" is now available on Blu-ray and DVD