Thursday, 9 September 2010

Review: The Secret in Their Eyes

Juan Jose Campanella's Oscar winning film flounders in its final scenes


As highlighted by Sight and Sound in their September issue, South American cinema has been riding high in the last decade, with the surprise Oscar success of Argentinian film The Secret in Their Eyes for Best Foreign Language film proving its recognition by Hollywood as a formidable force in foreign cinema.

Directed by Juan Jose Campanella, the film flits back and forth, from the present (1999) to flashbacks of the past (1974) as Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), a retired federal justice officer, attempts to resolve emotional and work baggage that has been haunting him for decades. The beginning of the film shows him grappling with his novel, its opening scene recounting a young man’s last morning with his beloved wife before she is brutally raped and murdered. It is later that we find out that this murder isn’t fictional, it’s real. Yet 20 years later, its lack of closure is troubling Esposito.

Our protagonist then embarks on a journey, reopening cases and re-encountering his former superior, Irene, (Soledad Villamil) in an attempt to find out what happened to the young woman’s killer. Yet in doing so he opens up his own past and his love for Irene which has never faltered over the years, despite her marriage to another man.

Back to the crime thriller part of the plot. We revisit 1974, where Irene, Esposito and his comic colleague, the aging incompetent alcoholic Pablo Sandoval worked on the case of Liliana Colotto who had just married Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), and was found raped and murdered in her home. Suspicion fell on Gomez (Javier Godino) a puny nobody who harboured an infatuation with Colotto. The unlikely Starsky and Hutchesque duo eventually managed to catch Gomez, culminating in a tense chase during a football match, with Gomez darting in and out of the camera shot as he attempted to make a getaway.

However, the real ‘thriller’ part of the film occurs twenty years later as Esposito attempts to work out what happened to Gomez after he was released from prison. Just as we are led to expect a certain conclusion to this tale, a marvellous twist shatters our expectations, producing a far more disturbing result.

}Despite its ingenious plot and superb acting, I can sympathise with those who wanted The White Ribbon or The Prophet to win the Foreign Language Oscar ~

The success of this film lies in the unlikely parallels drawn between Colotto’s murderer and our hero Esposito. His ability to seek out Gomez as Colotto’s killer is by recognising Gomez’s look of infatuation in a photo- the same look that he has when he sees Irene. Ricardo Darin as Esposito is a perfect anti-hero, not as handsome as Irene (Soledad Villamil), yet captivating enough to make the audience vouch for him as he trudges along in life, making mistakes on the way and harbouring an unwavering love for his boss.

However, despite its ingenious plot and superb acting, I can sympathise with those who wanted The White Ribbon or The Prophet to win the Foreign Language Oscar as both film endings were leagues above the final shoddy sequence in The Secret in their Eyes. Sadly, the brilliance of the film is sabotaged by its dreadful ending- an unrealistic and hopelessly optimistic conclusion that attempts to reward its protagonist for his troubled love life. Loose ends can easily be tied up in the crime plot of this film, but it’s not so believable when they are readily resolved in the love sub-plot.

Winners of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the past five years include:

2010- The Secret in Their Eyes

2009- Departures

2008- The Counterfeiters

2007- The Lives of Others

2006- Tsotsi

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