August 19th 2010

The Secret In Their Eyes

Review Written by Lynda Cowell

Directed by: Juan José Campanella

Run time: 129 mins

While we were all laughing at Babs Windsor’s bristols and tripping over our flared trousers, Argentina was experiencing a much more vile and bloody take on the 1970s. Thanks to the arrival of El Presidente Jorge Videla and his military regime, the country became blighted by what was called the Dirty War. Thousands of Videla’s opponents were routinely rounded up before “disappearing” into thin air.

Although such things are alluded to and the whole film is tainted by the Dirty War’s gritty unpleasantness, The Secret in their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos), sidesteps the country’s political shenanigans in favour of a straightforward crime thriller love story. Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is a retired court prosecutor who is ageing, divorced and lovelorn. The thought of sinking into an allotment, just like an old retired gent should, repels him so much that he decides to write a novel in his newly-acquired free time.

The story is not pleasant or pretty and in based on the partially unresolved case of Liliana Colotto. Flashback to 1974 and Benjamin finds himself in the bedroom of a young woman, artfully draped across her bedroom floor wearing nothing but a blood splattered death mask. Two foreigners are hauled in for questioning but it’s not them. When they finally catch up with the killer things don’t go according to plan: there is no such thing as justice in Argentina’s Seventies landscape and instead of a life sentence for a killer, Benjamin finds himself with a one-way ticket into exile.

Putting the pieces of his life back together gives Benjamin a good reason to re-visit the gaping holes in his past, which includes the unfulfilled romance with his boss Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villami).  Now married with kids, back then Irene was the senior court prosecutor. She was rich, smart and unobtainable but it didn’t stop either of them falling head-over-heels. Darin is a good actor but even better when his craggy features crumple with heartache every time Irene walks into a room. He never has to say a word.

All the characters here are worth their salt: the killer is suitably weazely and hatchet-faced, the dead woman’s husband is beyond pitiful as he sits in railway stations everyday, hoping to catch sight of his wife’s murderer and A-stars go to Benjamin and his drunken sidekick/only friend, Sandoval. Together they are charmingly hapless sometimes but their drive to see the case closed is what ultimately matters.
There’s no doubt that The Secret in their Eyes is a pacey, slick little number which works its way around the twists and turns (and final twist), with real skill and care. It doesn’t beat you over the head with 1970s nostalgia and thankfully concentrates on the plot in hand. It’s also a lovely-looking bit of film noir, complete with murky lighting and femme fatale undertones. Essentially, however, this is a big, fat love story.

Nothing physical ever happens between Benjamin and Irene, and they never actually admit their feelings to each other but it’s always clear what’s going on. We might get lust, passion and sex on a regular basis at the cinema these days, but we rarely get good old fashioned love, which is a shame, because when it’s done well, like this, it manages to move even the most twisted cynic’s heart. A bit.

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