In The Secret in Their Eyes, Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil play two co-workers balancing passions for their job and each other. Featuring two storylines set more than twenty years apart, Darin and Villamil both stretch their abilities to the limit, but they are always convincing, physically and emotionally. The characters they create and the feelings they embody are so utterly real that it makes you realize how artificial most cinematic love stories are.

I would surely label this film a love story, but this is only because these are the feelings that the film leaves you with. Writer-director Juan Jose Campanella has also crafted an engrossing murder mystery, centering around a rape and homicide case that dates back to 1974. The film juxtaposes the '74 storyline with that of the present day, set in 1999 Buenos Aires, where Benjamin Esposito (Darin), a retired federal justice agent, presents his former colleague Irene (Villamil) with a proposition to write a novel chronicling the '74 rape and murder of Lilliana Morales.

Benjamin also has an ulterior motive in writing this novel, and that is to re-spark the close partnership he shared with Irene all those years ago. We learn early on in the film that Benjamin is a good man. He has a corrupt boss who pins the rape on two poor immigrants, and Benjamin fights for their rights. His decency is also the reason why he has kept himself from getting close to Irene. She has been engaged since the first time they met, and his feelings have stayed locked away as a result.

Benjamin and Irene are rich and engaging lead characters; so are the supporting ones. Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) is Benjamin's drunk, funny, but very sincere partner; Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) is the devastated, enraged husband of the murder victim; and Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino) is Benjamin's prime suspect. What makes this such an admirable effort from Campanella is the fact that the supporting players, particularly Sandoval and Morales, have as much of a thematic impact as the two leads.

This is a film full of rich thematic overtones. The title accurately suggests a motif of the eyes, which becomes more than a lead early on in the case. But this film is also about the persistence of memory, and how certain things stick with us over time. That is the effect of interweaving these two storylines. Early on in the film there is a reunion of sorts between Benjamin and Irene. During this scene, there is a flashback to when the characters first met, and we are subsequently brought back to the present, realizing that Benjamin's mind has been twenty five years in the past for the entire conversation. For my money, it is the most tender moment so far this year.

Campanella is also in full control of his visual techniques. There is a particular chase scene in a crowded football stadium that will blow you away; reportedly, it took over two years of pre-production. There are also many times in this film, certainly in the opening sequence, in which the characters' faces are blurred. With these scenes, beautifully scored by Federico Jusid and Emilio Kauderer, Campanella reinforces the effect of time on memories, which is one of the film's main themes.

It has been said that as you grow older, it is the things you never attempt that you truly regret. This is the driving force behind Benjamin's character. He never explicitly confessed his love for Irene, and he never put his prime suspect behind bars. It is these two things that have haunted Benjamin throughout all of these years, and presumably doomed his multiple marriages. And there is something about a man pursuing redemption, at least in this good of a fashion, that I really connect with.

I will surely see The Secret in Their Eyes again, if only to absorb the feelings of that love story one more time. It is love at its most real. About halfway through the film, there is a scene between Benjamin and Irene, and a particular moment in that scene where I thought the uniqueness of this love story was going to be compromised. Campanella proved me wrong, as he did time and time again throughout the film. I cannot say that I haven't seen a crime story like this before, but the impact it had on me is something else entirely.


Jose said...

It's a delightful movie, you should check out more of Campanella's work if you can.

Danny King said...

@ Jose: This is the first I have seen of him, but I will definitely check out more.

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