Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Secrets in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes, the Argentine film that won the Oscar for best foreign film this year, is a quiet but haunting work—the kind that cannot be shaken away through analysis or appeal to genre conventions. Up to a point, it’s a police procedural, in so far as it deals with an investigation of a brutal rape-murder on the part of a middling investigator and his brilliant but alcoholic sidekick. Yet the story is made richer by the response of the victim’s husband to the loss of his beautiful young wife, and also by a romantic subplot concerning the investigator’s boss, an equally beautiful but conservative and seemingly unapproachable young woman from the upper classes. Halfway through the movie we’re given a further jolt when the … but it’s difficult to discuss a film of such quiet richness without giving away too much. Suffice it to say that in an era of fascist ascendency, justice is not entirely served by due process, and at a certain point, life becomes dangerous for the investigator himself. The twists and turns of the plot are largely unpredictable and we’re never confident we know what it’s all about.

The Secret in Their Eyes is less a murder mystery or a love story than a film about love—and passion. And the director, José Campanella, deserves credit for placing the most intriguing image in the entire film on the screen for only a second or two. Our investigator (Ricardo Darin) has developed a lead by examining photographs from the dead girl’s photo albums…but take a closer look at the photographs of his boss’s engagement party, which he himself attended.

The film would not be nearly so engaging, however, were it not for the performance of Soledad Villamil in the role of the winsome supervisor with whom our hero is hopelessly in love. Her expression carries a variety of ambiguous nuances, from hurt to affection to annoyance to propriety to self-protection, every time she appears on the screen. Darin himself is hardly less intriguing as the man who’s wasted his life in the presence of a woman who’s clearly beyond his class—though did he ever make the effort? Thus, four or five stories intersect (we must include the victim’s widower and the assailant himself, though we don’t have the time to explain why ) in a way that’s quite rare on screen.

The Secret in Their Eyes has been described as the best mystery/romance since L.A. Confidential. Maybe so. But let’s be honest. The American film packs a far greater wallop. On the other hand, the Argentine film introduces us to people as full as ambiguities and doubts and the anguish associated with missed opportunities and underappreciated friendships as we all probably are. It grows in the mind, and having seen it once, there can be little doubt that before long we’ll see it again.

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