Argentine film explores power of memory
âMemories are all you end up with,â Ricardo Morales says as he ponders the assault and murder of his wife 25 years earlier. âAt least pick the nice ones.â
The Secret in Their Eyes, the 2010 Academy Award winner for best foreign language film, follows the efforts of former Buenos Aires criminal investigator BenjamĂn EspĂłsito (Ricardo DarĂn) to make a novel out of a 25-year-old rape and murder case. In what he describes as âanother lifetime,â the case unexpectedly turns his career upside-down and drives a wedge between him and the woman he loves before he is able to profess his feelings for her.
As he painfully relives the fallout from the brutal homicide, which â through a series of flashbacks that correspond to the successive rough drafts of the novel â constitutes the majority of the film, BenjamĂn realizes that only by drawing the hurt he has repressed for decades into the open can he bring closure to the unresolved case.
The at times graphic film, based on the novel La Pregunta De Sus Ojos by Eduardo Sacheri, does not gloss over the unsavory reality of the rapes, murders and corruption that take place in modern-day Argentina.
An early flashback begins with quirky and harmless bickering about EspĂłsito not wanting to take on another case, as well as his endearing verbal paralysis in front of love interest Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a woman both his professional and social superior.
After arriving on the crime scene, BenjamĂn stops mid-sentence as he is led into a bedroom to see the naked, battered body of 23-year-old beauty Liliana Coloto (Carla Quevedo) contorted at the foot of the bed where she was raped and beaten to death by a childhood friend. Unable to speak as he takes in the scope of horror and sadness, he approaches the case with utmost seriousness from that moment forward.
In a later scene, BenjamĂn arrests and draws a confession out of sociopath Isidoro GĂłmez (Javier Godino), only to find out later that GĂłmez was released by the Argentine government. BenjamĂn listens on in helpless disbelief as a fascist official dismisses Isidoroâs conviction, explaining that heâs a smart kid whose personal life shouldnât bar him from assisting the Buenos Aires secret police force.
Under the threat of a freed, deranged murderer with a personal score to settle, BenjamĂn is forced to flee Buenos Aires and start his life over elsewhere, leaving behind Irene who, protected from the corrupt government by her family name, is able to stay.
The cast of the film does not disappoint.
The two leads, Ricardo DarĂn and Soledad Villamil, give touching, nuanced performances as driven and passionate individuals burdened with immense regret.
DarĂn in particular succeeds in portraying his character as instinctively dedicated to justice, chivalry and truth, struggling in a world that is decidedly not. As Ricardo Morales, Pablo Rago garners audience sympathy as a tortured soul unable to recover from what life has taken from him, his kindhearted nature warped into something as pitiable as it is disturbing.
And beloved Argentine comedian Guillermo Francella adds hilarity to the grim-ness of the story as the oft-inebriated Sandoval â BenjamĂnâs closest friend and partner in anti-crime.
Director Juan JosĂ© Campanella does an outstanding job conveying the sheer depth and dimension of human emotion in the story, so much so that we can forgive his occasional meandering into the less-than-novel realm of good cop/bad cop dialogue.
The film is as much about the rediscovery of the past as it is about love and depravity. The characters are each in their own way tied down by their history, all unable to move forward under the weight of memories of lost loves and, in the cases of BenjamĂn and Irene, long, festering âwhat ifs.â Some are fortunate to enjoy the benefit of second chances; others are not so lucky.
The Secret in Their Eyes combines all the suspense of a legal thriller with the self-reflexive insight of a memoir. The audience sees and the characters learn that what we lose sight of â whether itâs an opportunity for love or the whereabouts of a murderer â is never as deeply buried in the past as we might believe.
âIt wasnât another lifetime,â an eager BenjamĂn professes to Irene. âIt was this one. It is this one.â