Mark Reviews Movies

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES

3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Juan José Campanella

Cast: Richardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella, José Luis Gioia

MPAA Rating: R (for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language)

Running Time: 2:07

Release Date: 4/16/10 (limited); 4/23/10 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 22, 2010

There are two recalled moments early on in The Secret of their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos). They are ordinary, everyday scenes, remembered over twenty years later by a man who directly experienced one of them and knew of the other through another man's story. Even though the second is part of a different man's life, the man has lived through it himself, in his own way, on his own terms.

The first scene opens the film. A woman stands on a train platform; a man is boarding a train. The camera lingers on her eyes and on his steps, while the rest of the motion of the world blurs around them. The train departs, and she chases after it. Their hands reach out to each other, blocked by the window.

The second scene he remembers is of a young, married couple sitting down for breakfast.

The reason both scenes strike the man enough to consider them for the start of a novel he has decided to write is that they are endings of a life once lived. The man on the train does not see the woman again for 25 years. The man at breakfast never sees his wife again, as she was brutally murdered later that day.

The man trying to write the book is Benjamín Esposito (Ricardo Darín), formerly an agent in a criminal court in Buenos Aires and now retired. He has returned to the city after decades living away from it and visits his old co-worker Irene (Soledad Villamil), now a judge. Esposito tells her he wants to write a novel about the murder of the young wife. Irene lends him the office's old typewriter, and they laugh about how the "a" is still broken on it. Their meeting has the unmistakable familiarity of people who have worked together for years, know how the other thinks, and genuinely care for each other.

It is also filled with regret, as this is the first time they have seen each other in over two decades. There was once the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two of them, something they both wanted but never found the way to say out loud. Life, as it has a tendency to do, got in the way. She is now married and has been for nearly as long as he's been away from Buenos Aires, which is not a coincidence, although Esposito is still stuck in the mindset of the man he was back—one who never thought he had a chance with her and hence never tried. He does not consider how the timing worked out and what that might mean about her feelings for him.

The murder of the young wife who made breakfast for her husband one morning and was dead by dinner, Esposito tells Irene, has been on his mind recently, and he wants to write about it. He doesn't know how to begin, so she suggests he write what he remembers the most. Esposito has been writing that, but he cannot tell her that his most vivid memory is of seeing her for what he believed was the last time.

This is the background for the film's story, written by director Juan José Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri, based on Sacheri's novel. It is told with the pinpoint precision of man concerned not with the specific details of a criminal investigation but with the effects of the crime on those involved. It is not about the "what" but why this particular case of the countless he handled before retiring has troubled Esposito a quarter of a century after the crime was committed.

He remembers how adamant he was to not take the case and how seeing the woman's body, naked and bloody, half on a bed and half on the floor, instantly changed his mind. He remembers with fondness the office's clerk Pablo (Guillermo Francella), who spent more time in the local bar than at his desk. After too much to drink, Esposito would routinely bring Pablo to his own apartment, the drunken clerk's wife always saying it was the last time she would tolerate her husband's inebriation.

He remembers the murdered woman's husband Morales (Pablo Rago), a man so devoted to his wife that he tells Esposito he is trapped in the memory of their last breakfast together. When Esposito goes through her old photo albums, he notices one man (Javier Godino) always looking at her with longing. Esposito tells Morales this is their man, and when word gets to the suspect, he disappears. From then on, Morales sits at the train station every day after work, waiting for the day that his wife's killer gets off a train to return to the city. He once left work on his lunch breaks to watch "The Three Stooges" with her, and this is what his life has become.

Mostly, though, he remember Irene, once a fresh-faced new employee at his office, now older like he is. Like Morales' final breakfast, Esposito is a man trapped in a moment.

The investigation moves forward in spite of lack of usable evidence and the disappearance of Esposito's lead suspect. Campanella mounts an inspired, monumental one-take shot as Esposito and Pablo search for the killer at a packed soccer stadium. The camera flies in from the air into the crowd to the two investigators and through the entire stadium as they chase the suspect.

The story grows trickier once it appears to be ending, as politics and old grudges come into play, and justice seemingly served becomes an even harder goal. A scene in an elevator in which the suspect wordlessly confronts Esposito and Irene in an elevator and signals his victory over them is equally as intense as the soccer field chase.

Through it all, Campanella understands the true stakes here. He observes the players' regret. It's not only in the eyes; it's also in their faces. Each of Darín's wrinkles and age lines tell as much of the story as the winding plot. The Secret in Their Eyes is a haunting tale of things left unsaid and unfinished.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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