Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes (Review)

"You said life". It's not very often that such a short sentence, like tonight's post's opener, is loaded with so much meaning. But it would be fair to say that this laconic statement is the axis on which the plot of the Oscar-winning Argentinian thriller "El Secreto de sus Ojos" ("The Secret in Their Eyes") revolves. The 'life' to which that phrase refers can be interpreted in two ways.

The first one is pretty direct. It's the movie's main narrative. In mid 70s, pre-junta, Argentina, an attractive schoolteacher is raped and murdered. The resulting investigation sees young policeman Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín) working with - and falling for - Cornell-graduate lawyer Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil). After a false start following a confession beaten out of two immigrants by one of Benjamín's rivals, the real killer is finally apprehended. He turns out to be a long-time acquaintance of the victim's and obsessed with her. But corruption is rife and the perpetrator is soon freed. Thus, justice is far from done. This situation, which takes up to thirds of the movie, is important to understand the meaning of the opening phrase of this post. A phrase, which is the last line in the film, uttered by the deceased woman's husband to a puzzled - but understanding - Benjamín.

The second reading is more subtle and concerns three characters. One is the aforementioned widower, who, on figuring out the identity of his wife's killer, goes regularly to the same train station, week after week, hoping to come face to face with the criminal. This stakeout becomes his only life, since his beloved one's has been taken. The other two characters for whom 'life' means exactly that are the two leads. Twenty-five years after the murder and whilst writing a novel about it, Benjamín pays a visit to his old boss. He realises immediately that his feelings for her have not abated, but, on the contrary, intensified. The way they look at and desire each other reminded me somehow of the end of "Love in the Time of Cholera" when Florentino Ariza tells Fermina Daza that "after 53 years, seven months and 11 days and night, my heart was at last fulfilled. And I discovered, to my joy, that it is life and not death that has no limits." In Benjamín and Irene's case it's, fortunately, only half that time.

There are other elements that make "The Secret in their Eyes" an excellent film. The supporting cast, headed formidably by Guillermo Francella (Benjamín's alcoholic sidekick), with Pablo Rago as the grieving husband and Javier Godino as the psychopathic killer, is exquisite to watch. The photography is superb, especially the interior shots and the flashbacks. There's plenty of humour, too, which is very welcome in a film laden with so much suffering.

But to me it's the Dostoevskian puzzle at the centre of the film that matters most. Should life mean life? And, should we use violence to retaliate when we've been wronged and justice has not been done? I think that each case should be treated individually, but in Juan José Campanella's film I find myself replying affirmatively to the opening sentence of this review: yes, life means life.

© 2011

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 10th July at 10am (GMT)


  1. Thanks for the review. I tried to watch this movie recently, but I put it on way too late and fell asleep! I know that I would really like it, though, and your post has prompted me to rent it again --

  2. I've got this in my Netflix queue. Thank goodness for English subtitles!

  3. I saw this last year and thought it was a terrific film - Ricardo darin is a great actor and in all the best Argentine films - I used to live in BA and really enjoyed the way the film tackled the history and issues as well as superb characterisation....Greetings from Mexico (but only until Sunday!!)

  4. I would like to watch it.

  5. Oooh. I've got this DVD in my pile waiting to be watched. After reading your review, I'm going to move it to the top of the pile. (but it'll still have to wait until Le Tour is over!)

    Judy, South Africa

  6. This was my favourite film of last year - especially the treat of wandering into the Filmhouse in Edinburgh to see it, having read no reviews and not knowing what to expect. I read in a review that they were ordinary characters trapped in the nightmare "noir" setting of the regime, and that rang true. It had such a sense of menace, and was a great love story too. Also it managed the time shifts very convincingly. Fabulous!

  7. Cuban, I've always been compelled by your awesome reviews to go out and get those movies that you so eloquently dissect. And I have seen this movie, already, but I have to admit you did an awesome job of breaking it down. You get to the heart of the matter, and you make it spin. What I loved about this movie was the dark aura that hung over everything, and how this made the plot and characters just shine.

    A lovely, though disturbing, film. And thanks for the awesome review!


  8. I enjoyed this movie so much that I went to see it twice and also reviewed it on my blog. It is a haunting psychological drama about obsession, justice, retribution, and love, a nuanced vehicle for examining the role a singular passion plays in transforming otherwise empty and ordinary lives. Your review does it justice. This is an extraordinary movie.

  9. Many thanks to you all for your kind words. I loved this movie from begining to end, even if the topic is one about which I still feel ambivalent: what to do with justice fails?

    Greetings from London.

    My word verification is 'masters'. It fits the director of this superb flick very well.

  10. I saw this film in Calgary, of all places, about two years ago and thought it was tremendously good.

    Not an easy task to explain such a complex story, but in your hands, anything is possible.

  11. What a great review.

    When I saw this movie, I was so impressed. The story and the acting were excellent. So much, that I ordered the book, as I wanted all the details in the original novel.

    The typewriter was a clever element in the story. I loved it!




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