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The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
Directed By: Juan Jose Campanella
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamill, Pablo Rago
Rating: R for a Rape Scene, Violent Images, Some Graphic Nudity and Language
Running Time: 2 Hour 9 Min
Strengths: Writing, Directing, Cinematography
Weaknesses: Makeup(?), Dark Subject Matter May Disturb Some Viewers
A retired justice agent writes a novel to process a murder case that haunts him two and a half decades after the events transpired.
WHEW! I did not know what I was getting into when I dove headfirst into this film on a tranquil but snowy Saturday morning. This film is certainly not for the faint of heart; it left me on edge for hours afterwards. A day afterwards, and I was still reeling over it. Now, as I sit down to write this review, three days after seeing the film, I’m still thinking about how well executed this Argentinean 2010 Best Foreign Language Film was. It kept me guessing until (almost) the very end, the acting, directing, and cinematography were all commendable, and the twists were of the very best variety: inevitable and also infuriating. This movie hit me almost as hard as the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film: “The Lives of Others”.
While this movie is one of the better foreign pictures I’ve seen in recent memory, it is, as I mentioned above, not for the faint of heart. The biggest trigger warning for this film is the rape scene, which happens almost immediately. The scene is brief, but it is incredibly disturbing. There are also two or three instances throughout the film where we flash back and get brief glimpses of the horror that Liliana (Carla Quevedo) went through, but those flashes last for only a few second. The filmmakers knew what they were doing when they put that scene near the beginning- it hooks you, and immediately makes you want justice for Liliana, but it’s not easy to watch.
The film is told in flashback form, taking place in 1974 and 1999 simultaneously. The 1974 storyline revolves around the investigation of Liana’s rape and murder while the 1999 storyline covers the protagonist, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), as he writes a novel recounting his time on the case and the subsequent follow up with the people involved. Esposito goes to the scene of Liliana’s murder and watches as CSI takes photos and evidence, then soon after goes to speak with Liliana’s now-widowed husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago). Morales is shocked and does seem to take the news well, and Esposito promises the grieving widower that he will find Liliana’s killer. Morales’s partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), whom is a barely functioning alcoholic, assists him, alongside the new lawyer boasting impressive credentials, Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), whom also acts as an unrequited love-interest for Esposito.
Whilst investigating the murder, Esposito is informed that another justice agent has already found the responsible culprits. Dubious about the man’s findings, Esposito goes to interview the supposed perpetrators, two immigrant murders with no relationship to Liliana whatsoever. Furious, Esposito accuses the other man of pinning the case on innocents simply to improve his own arrest record. Soon after, he returns to the case and find clues that lead him to the man he believes might be responsible.
Ninety percent of the fun that comes from this movie is the result of not knowing where the case will go, so I will try to avoid any more major spoilers. From here the film becomes an exhilarating and disturbing cat and mouse game. The writing and directing are far and away the best parts of this film, and for that we have Juan Jose Campanella to thank. Emotion drips from this movie like blood from Liliana’s corpse; I wanted the killer to be caught and justice to be extracted with every atom of my being. There is hidden symbolism in many scenes, little hints and clues that one might not catch until its too late.
This film is an interesting look into Argentinean culture, law, and justice. I believe before this the only other film I’d seen from Argentina was the 2015 Nominee for Best Foreign Film, “Wild Tales”, which was delightfully bonkers (Ricardo Darin appeared in that movie as well). That film, along with this one, took stabs at the injustices and corruption of the legal and political systems. Somewhere, lying dormant in the murky recesses of my mind, I had known that corruption was a problem in Argentina, but I didn’t know to what extent. This film took the spark of interest and fanned it to flame, and after a quick Google search, I found a Wikipedia page wholly dedicated to Corruption in Argentina, documenting more than thirty scandals just on that page. I find that it’s always amazing watching foreign cinema for the insight it provides us into the lives and troubles of others.
The cinematography was also quite notable- not award-worthy, but still impressive. There is one scene in particular that takes place inside a soccer stadium where the entirety is shot as one take. The camera follows Esposito as he navigates cheering crowds, through capacious cement corridors, and even out onto the field. It’s quite impressive. There are other, more subtle scenes where the cinematography reveals character insights without overtly screaming in your face.
My biggest complaint is the makeup, which isn’t terrible, but at times it looks a little ludicrous. The story takes place over a twenty-five year span, and in order to show the aging, I believe they overdo the wrinkles a bit. Some scenes are better than others, but in the worse scenes the skin looks like it’s sagging right off their faces. It was jarring at first; I honestly thought something was wrong with my TV for a moment.
There are a few objectionable moments in the film from a Christian standpoint, moralistically. Esposito, when returning to Irene in order to procure old files, begins flirting with her, even though she makes it apparent she’s married and has a few children. Though Irene tells Esposito this, she doesn’t make any effort to shy from being flirtatious; the film goes so far as to imply that an affair between the two would be a good thing, despite the complications that would arise.
Overall, the choice is up to you. The rape scene is, as I mentioned above, quite uncomfortable. It’s necessary to the story, but the scene as a standalone is hard to get through. This is an outstanding piece of cinema, however, and if you can get past the first few minutes you will find yourself completely caught up in this web of conspiracies and murder. It’s a rough ride, but it is utterly worth it for those who can brave the storm.
Note: I haven’t seen the 2015 remake starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts, but the reviews are rather poor, and my brother, whom has the relative same taste in movies as I, proclaimed it “garbage.” If you’ve seen both films, what are your thoughts? Did you prefer the 2009 Argentinean version or the Americanized remake?
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