Okay, so this is for the film people. Movie people? You have to leave the room.
Now movie people, don’t get all bent out of shape. I’m not saying that you’re not sophisticated enough. I’m certainly not saying that you’re not smart enough. Not at all. What I am saying is…
If you stick around and read the rest of this post you’re going to laugh your butt off and I’m going to be embarrassed. Okay?
Besides, it’s a foreign film. And there are sub titles.
My next post will be on Kiss Me Deadly, or maybe even Die Hard, so adios movie people. No hard feelings. Okay? Hope you drop by later.
Alright. Glad we got that cleared up.
Every once in a while a film will come along and you know that it is a good film of course, even a great film, but not necessarily the best film you’ve ever seen, or even your favorite film, and yet it speaks to you so profoundly, so earnestly that it becomes your friend. That’s what Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes is to me.
(Now before we go any further, let me clarify–this is the original The Secret In Their Eyes, NOT the remake. The remake is…Well, it’s bad. I’ll just leave it at that.)
The film opens up with what at first appears to be a dream sequence. The scene is airy and disorientated, washed out in descending hues of gray to white. We see a man and a women in a train station. An attractive couple. The man is ruggedly handsome. The woman is simply beautiful.
The man boards the train. He watches the woman through the window as the train begins to embark. As distance grows between them, the woman suddenly begins to run after the train. She catches up to it and reaches out, placing her open palm on the window. The man does the same with his palm so that they are touching, if not for the window between them…And the scene evaporates.
Now we are alone with the man. He is older; there are wrinkles. His hair is salt and pepper. His surroundings are modest, but comfortable. He is writing, the old fashioned way with pen and paper. Frustrated, he wads up the piece of paper and begins to write anew.
Suddenly we are plopped down into another sequence. This time the hues are gold and yellow. Violent and terrible. A young woman is being brutally beat and raped in her bedroom. She pleads with her attacker. He is unmoved and undeterred. The assault is appropriately graphic but not gratuitous. It is rape after all. It is ugly. She is not the woman at train station.
The man wads up another sheet of paper, disrupting the sequence. Still he is anguished. He scribbles “I Fear” on a scrap of paper. Then he goes to bed.
The next morning we see him again at his former workplace. His name is Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin). He is a retired Argentine lawyer, a distinct attorney of sorts. Walking through the ornate halls of a courthouse, blatantly flirting with much younger women, he is cocky in a gentle, somewhat, self effacing way. But once he gets to the doorway of his ex boss, he isn’t so sure of himself. He takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders before he knocks.
As soon as he opens the door the color palette changes, not dramatically, but not subtlety either. The room is aglow with warmth and wealth, lots of polished mahogany and red– not the likes of crimson, but maroon and cherry. His ex boss wears the color of garnet. She is the women at the train station. Well heeled and naturally articulate, she is as stunning as the young woman years before–perhaps more so. Her name is Irene Menedez Hastings (Soledad Villamil). She is a judge.
There is palpable chemistry between these two. There is also longing and regret, though it doesn’t interfere with their mutual fondness. They joke and kid. They are getting older. Much older. It has been a long time. Too long.
Benjamin tells Irene he is writing a book about a murder case they worked together, some twenty years earlier. He wants her to look through his rough drafts and give him her opinion. She is not happy about his request. It is clear that the case is the catalyst of the complex tangle of emotions between them. Even so, she complies. This is the unveiling of the window to their world.
Director Juan Jose Campanella works magic with color, texture and lighting in The Secret in Their Eyes, The Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language Film of 2010. It is visually beautiful. A graduate of NYU film school and prolific television director (directing seventeen episodes of the Law and Order: SVU television franchise alone), he combines the intimacy of romance and the epic sweep of Romanticism, capturing these often clashing concepts and confining them largely within four walls. It’s a maverick move.
However this is no bedroom drama. Take, for instance, the much-ballyhooed soccer stadium chase scene. Here Campanella uses the stadium and the roaring crowd as his “nature” motif. It is monumental, exhilarating and like no other action sequence I have ever seen.
Set in the director’s native Buenos Aires, Argentina, The Secret In Their Eyes employs a nonlinear narrative, straddling the mid-seventies past, with the late nineties present. There is political intrigue, conspiracy and mass corruption consistent with Argentina’s turbulent, violent past. Benjamin, Irene and their loyal, but alcoholic colleague Sandoval (Guillermo Francello) swim in a cesspool of hired killers and moral ambiguity while trying to dole out justice.
And then there is the brutal murder of the beautiful twenty-three year old teacher and newlywed that Benjamin is writing about. Every cop or lawyer has as a case they cannot shake, at least in movies–excuse me–in films they do. For Benjamin, this is that case.
At the murder scene, he sees photographs of the victim–Liliana Coloto is her name–where she and her husband are happily smiling. And while he is haunted by the vicious murder, it’s the look of love in the couple’s eyes that he cannot escape. He recognizes it, having seen it in Irene’s eyes when she looks at him and yet he cannot, will not act upon it. Why?
Benjamin feels a special kinship with Liliana’s husband, Ricardo (Pablo Rago); they are both caught in a chasm of lost love, his unrequited and the widower’s cruelly interrupted. Ricardo confides that there will never be anyone else for him and Benjamin understands.He fears they are both doomed to an unfulfilled existence. How can a person live without passion?
While looking through Liliana’s photo albums, Benjamin sees something unexpected and disturbing. Furtive, indiscernible to the undiscriminating eye, it glares at him from a photograph of Liliana and several of her friends. He recognizes this look too, but it is not an expression of love. It is the look obsession. Weary of questions he fears may never be answered, he points to the man with the hunger in his eyes and asks Ricardo,
“Who is this?”
As I mentioned to you, I have seen this film, but your post makes it sound intriguing. I will be seeking it out.
I think you’ll like it John. I don’t recommend the American remake though. It’s like the remake of The Vanishing…Bad.
Sorry, once again about your cat.
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Great post. For me this film is a masterpiece. There is no other word that I will use to describe it. I read the book the film is based on and it is nothing compared to this fabulous movie.
I agree–about the masterpiece part. Fantastic film, indeed. Haven’t read the book; most of the time the book is better. A real testament to a visionary director that I would like to see more films from. Thanks for the follow. I like your blog very much.
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Thank you. Most of the time the book is better, but, recently, upon re-reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the English Patient and the Godfather, I just came to the realisation that I prefer their cinematic versions so much more. It happens, I guess.
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Darin is just wonderful, and this ranks with ‘Nine Queens’ among my favourite South American films. (Bombon El Perro is in there too) Along with ‘Come and See’, ‘The Lives of Others’, ‘Everlasting Moments’, and many others, it is on my mental list of the best foreign language films I have ever seen.
Best wishes, Pete.
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