Friday, 4 January 2013

filmbore pick of the week - The Secret In Their Eyes

The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)

Director: Juan José Campanella
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacher, Juan José Campanella
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino
Year: 2009
Language: Spanish
UK rental release: January 2011

Rotten Tomatoes

It's 2010, and Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin team up to comically insult the big names in cinema stardom on the stage of Hollywood's Kodak Theatre for the 82nd Academy Awards. Just like our titular hosts, it's a night of two-horse races, including the two front runners for Best Foreign Film: the favourite, Michael Haneke's moody grey scaled The White Ribbon, which had already taken the Palme d'Or and the Golden Globe gong, and the underdog, Jacques Audiard's French, feisty prison tale A Prophet. It was difficult to call between the two of them.

"And the winner is...The Secret In Their Eyes", what?

So out of the blue came this Argentinian thriller that no-one thought would stand a chance of taking the prize, and shortly after the ceremony I had to follow this up and find out what the fuss was all about...and I'm glad I did.

Retired courts clerk Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin, Nine QueensSon Of The Bride) has decided to turn his admin abilities towards writing a novel. Instead of crafting an original tale, he decides to use influence from his own experience as a civil servant, selecting an unsolved case of a young woman was brutally murdered and raped.

However, he's suffering from severe writing block; maybe from his lack of experience as an author, or from the memories drudged up from such a severe incident. He needs advise and inspiration and decides to pay a visit to a colleague from the courts, his old boss, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil, Red Bear, Life According To Muriel). Re-uniting with her, there is still good chemistry between them, and she's ready to pass some friendly advice his way. Her initial reaction to his decision to unravel the Morales case seems to worry her, but she's happy to lend a hand, even exhuming Benjamin's old typewriter for some inspiration.

As Benjamin starts to scribe his story, he is forced to revisit the events of the case, reminiscing from how it all transpired back in 1974. Not long into his term as a clerk to Irene, he is assigned to the incident, investigating what happened to the murdered victim Liliana Coloto (Carla Quevedo) and is introduced to the her widowed husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), assuring him that the killer will be put away for life. But as the case was never resolved, this promise was never upheld, which burns away at Benjamin, pushing him to delve further for his novel in the present.

It's through digging further into the incident that Benjamin notices the presence of a very suspicious individual, Isidoro Gómez (Javier Godino), whom is present in old photographs of Liliana. There's a secret in her eyes, as she appears to view him with contempt, triggering a new conundrum for Benjamin. Not only does this pose an interesting angle for his novel, but his haunting need to find closure for Ricardo Morales leads him to enquire into the case being re-opened. Irene is reluctant and may take some convincing, while Benjamin's meddling reveals further mystery in the guise of corrupt politics, unquenched love, devastated lives and with the suspect Isidoro himself, all leading to a disturbing finale that will push your moral grounding to it's breaking point.

Let me first point out that this is a brave thriller, in that it's draws on ambition and desire in both it's detective-like intrigue and through a paired love story between our leads. The events that the whole film hinges on are harrowing, and the material is handled with extreme care when considering such a delicate subject. It's this gentle balance between the tale's threads that elevates it above most standard thrillers.

To add to the tension, the 70's segments of the film are set just a few years before Argentina's "Dirty War", where 10's of thousands of victims "disappeared" over a period of about 7 years through political disputes and conspiratorial cover ups. Leading up to this horrific period of Argentina's history, many people would partake in criminal activity of severe levels, and would never be convicted, which helps to explain some of the intricate elements to this tale.

It jumps between it's 2000 and 1970's settings seamlessly, allowing you to keep up with the story without confusion. Yet, when in the 70's setting, it can sometimes be a little unclear whether we are witness to Benjamin's direct memories, a novelisation of the events through his writing or even a blend of the two; the realms of both fact and fiction blurring together in either understanding the truth or discovering his creative flare. Unusually though, where such methods can be deemed baffling in some pictures, in this tale such fashion lends to the drama's allure, lacing it with perplexity and charm.

Such appeal is given a helping hand by our two leads. Both Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil are stunning in this picture, with the camaraderie between them both natural and electric. They portray such assured performances throughout, characterising with ease two colleagues who have seemed familiar with each longer than time itself. They both effortlessly command great screen presence on their own, but it's when they are in each other's company that they are at their most enchanting.

Their scene stealing performances don't deter from other strong elements, such as some memorable scenes including a poignant confrontation in a lift and a technically genius one-shot (albeit effects assisted) in a football stadium nearer to the film's finale. All of these tableaus are neatly sewn together with some excellent camera work, comprising of a beautiful combination of soft focus close-ups and panning wide shots, allowing for a blend of moods to thrive in a story that has just as many twists and turns.

I get asked many times for an interesting world cinema film to watch, and with my cinematic appetite to watch so many movies it's difficult to highlight just a few. Nevertheless, there are always one or two that rise to the surface, and The Secret In Their Eyes has been just that on numerous occasions. This is both a formidable and classy thriller/drama/romance that's beguiling on so many levels and captivates you from it's first enigma to it's brutal climax. And so clearly deserved it's Oscar!

Don't forget to leave comments below, tweet me @filmbore or post on my Facebook page here.

No comments:

Post a Comment