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The Secret in Their Eyes

by on May 12, 2010
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The 2009 Oscar winner for best foreign language film lives up to its billing, with a labyrinthine plot that will keep even the most astute audiences guessing right up until the end.

Much like Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces,” which also came out last year, “The Secret in Their Eyes” has a story that flashes back and forth in time, with the present holding the secret to the past. It’s a human drama that wears the clothes of a whodunit.

Director Juan Jose Campanella, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eduardo Sacheri based on his novel, craft a meditation on justice and revenge intertwined with a powerful unrequited love story. The parallel timelines, set in the mid-1970s and a quarter-century later, touch on some Argentine historical themes that may be fuzzy to American audiences.

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is a retired assistant prosecutor who can’t let go of the past. Everything leads him back to the Morales case, a brutal rape and murder of a young wife that was the high point of his career, and the cause of his downfall into obscurity.

He goes to talk with his old boss, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), who’s now the district attorney, for encouragement to write a novel about the case. From the moment their eyes meet, it’s clear something monumental resides between them.

Flashing back to 1974, we watch as they are first introduced and he began work on the Morales murder. Irene comes from a wealthy, politically influential family, and was appointed Benjamin’s superior despite being about 20 years younger.

The other figure in their tiny three-person office is Pablo Sandoval (a wonderful Guillermo Francella), a middle-aged alcoholic who spends most of his days avoiding work. He always answers the phone with the name of a fictitious business, and claims the caller has a wrong number. (My favorite greeting was for the sperm bank. “Deposit or withdrawal?” Pablo asks.)

The relationship between Benjamin and Pablo is just lovely. Benjamin’s constantly being called to pull his friend out of a bar fight or some other scrape, and lending him money to fuel his binges. He tries to be hard-hearted, but always melts when his friend needs help.

The Morales case is closed for lack of evidence, but after meeting with the woman’s husband (Pablo Rago), who seems stuck in time since the murder, he has Irene pull strings to reopen it.

Unlikely clues keep the case stumbling forward. It’s Pablo who notices old photographs of the murdered girl with a neighbor who always seems to be staring intently at her. They eventually track down this man, Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), and try to link him to the crime.

This story unfolds through Benjamin’s older eyes, so we’re unsure if what we’re seeing is unvarnished history or colored by his recollections and emotions. He isn’t certain himself, and starts poking into the mystery he long thought resolved.

Others advise him to let it go: “Forget about it. You’ll have a thousand pasts and no future.”
Obviously, I can’t say too much for fear of spoiling the twists. Suffice to say that they kept even this veteran deducer of plots pleasantly misdirected.

With its mix of mystery, romance and political intrigue, “The Secret in Their Eyes” is quietly thrilling.

4.5 Yaps