The Secret in Their Eyes

 This post was first published by Suite101. It contains spoilers. 

The Secret in Their Eyes (directed by Juan Jose Campanella) – in Spanish ‘El secreto des sus ojos’ – is a careful balance of genres. Part mystery, part crime drama and part romance, the film elegantly combines different styles to tell a story that is, essentially, about human nature.

Ex-policeman Benjamin Esposito (played by Richardo Darin, one of the biggest names in Argentinean cinema) is writing a novel. However, he is having trouble finding a place to start. The novel is about a case Esposito – now retired – investigated in the 1970s. A young woman (played by Carla Quevedo) was brutally raped and murdered in her own home. But the case became tangled up with Esposito’s personal life, and now, looking back, he remembers too many beginnings to choose from. One of those beginnings involves a female lawyer – Irene Menendez-Hastings, played by Soledad Villanil – with whom Esposito worked closely. Irene was the love of Esposito’s life, though her social status and engagement to another man kept him from voicing his feelings. Now, as Esposito consults Irene for advice on the novel, their relationship is offered a second chance.

The film, set in Buenos Aires, alternates between Esposito’s flashbacks to the case in 1974 and his present conversations with Irene. Most of the action revolves around Esposito, Irene, and Esposito’s alcoholic partner Pablo Sandoval (played by comedian Guillermo Francella) as they hunt for the killer. Esposito ends his novel with him farewelling Irene – supposedly for the last time – on a train platform in the 1970s. But that is not, of course, the true conclusion. A range of unanswered questions, both regarding the case and Esposito’s relationship with Irene, lead the final quarter of the film in a new direction. The real ending, when it does come, is both surprising and satisfying.

The Secret in Their Eyes is in one sense a classic crime thriller that holds its audience from start to finish. Campanella has spent the last few years of his career directing American TV dramas such as Law and Order, and his skill in the genre is obvious in this film. However, it is the humanity of the characters that takes The Secret in Their Eyes to another level. Getting drunk in the local bar one night – as he does every night – Sandoval points out that while individuals can change almost everything about themselves, the one thing that can never be altered is their passion. Whether that passion is a job, a drug or a woman, it never dies. This idea lies at the core of the film, and enriches what would otherwise be a very clever crime drama with a fascinating insight into the human condition.

The Secret in Their Eyes, released in 2009, won the 2010 Oscar for best foreign language film. It runs just over two hours long, in Spanish with English subtitles. This film has an R rating for violence and a rape scene.

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