The Secret in Their Eyes
|The Secret in Their Eyes|
Argentine theatrical poster
|Directed by||Juan José Campanella|
|Based on||La pregunta de sus ojos
by Eduardo Sacheri
|Edited by||Juan José Campanella|
|Box office||$34 million|
The Secret in Their Eyes (Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos) is a 2009 Argentine crime drama film directed, produced and edited by Juan José Campanella and written by Eduardo Sacheri and Campanella, based on Sacheri's novel La pregunta de sus ojos (The Question in Their Eyes). The film, a joint production of Argentine and Spanish companies, stars Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil.
The story unearths the buried romance between a retired judiciary employee and a judge who worked together a quarter century ago. They recount their efforts on an unsolved 1974 rape and murder that is an obsession not only for them, but for the victim's husband and the killer.
In 2009, it was the recipient of awards in both Hollywood and Spain. The movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, and, with 1985's The Official Story, made Argentina the first country in Latin America to win it twice. Three weeks before, it had received the Spanish equivalent with the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film. As of 2010, it was only surpassed at the Argentine box office by Leonardo Favio's 1975 classic Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf (Nazareno Cruz y el lobo).
(Note: in this summary, last names describe the characters in the fictionalized novel of the 1970's history of law enforcement officer Benjamín "Espósito", first names describe the people in retiree "Benjamin" Espósito's modern world.)
Retiree Benjamín Espósito is having trouble getting started on his first novel. He pays a visit to the offices of Judge Irene Menéndez Hastings to tell her about his plans to recount the story of the Liliana Coloto case, the one they both worked on 25 years before, when Irene was his new department chief and he was the federal agent assigned to the case. Irene suggests that Benjamin start at the beginning.
The beginning is the day that Espósito was assigned to the rape and murder of Coloto, who was attacked in her home on a fine June morning in 1974. Espósito promises her widower, Ricardo Morales, that the killer will do life for his crime. His investigation is joined by his alcoholic friend and assistant, Pablo Sandoval, and the Cornell Law School-educated Hastings. Before the three can start, their rival, Romano, tries to show them up by having officers beat a confession out of two innocent construction laborers, who had been working near the couple's apartment. Espósito gets them released and physically attacks Romano in a justice building hall. Espósito threatens to file a complaint as Romano justifies the framing with racial discrimination against the construction workers.
Back on the case, Esposito finds a clue to the murderer's identity in Coloto's photo albums. He notices that pictures from her home town of Chivilcoy frequently show a suspicious young man named Isidoro Gómez; his eyes never leave her.
Irene finds this draft of the story unbelievable, since she does not agree that an agent can identify a killer by the look in his eyes. Benjamín insists all of a young man's feeling for a woman is spoken there.
Although Gómez was recently in Buenos Aires, he has left both his apartment and employment. Espósito and Sandoval travel to Chivilcoy and sneak into Gómez's mother's house, where they find his letters to her. Sandoval steals them but they contain nothing useful and, when their supervising judge learns of the illegal action, the case is closed.
Over an evening review of the manuscript, Benjamín reminds Irene that it was only one week later that she announced her engagement. The memory is poignant, and she decides that she cannot revisit the past through his novel anymore.
A year after the case was closed, Espósito runs into Morales and learns that he maintains daily surveillance at Buenos Aires railway stations, in the hope of catching Gómez passing through. Deeply impressed, Espósito successfully appeals to Hastings to reopen the case. In the end, Sandoval produces the critical insight: he realizes that names in the letters refer to players on Racing Club, a Buenos Aires football club, indicating Gómez's fixed "passion" for the team. Therefore, Espósito and Sandoval attend a match for Racing and spot Gómez in the crowd, who slips away when a Racing goal sends the crowd into a frenzy. Gómez is pursued by the duo through the stadium and nearly vanishes before he is cornered, arrested, and taken in for questioning. Espósito's largely illegal interrogation is interrupted by Hastings, but when she finds herself looking in the suspect's eyes and catches him ogling her, she uses her status and sexuality to provoke him with taunts about his masculine inadequacies. It works: he exposes himself and takes a swing at her in the same moment he confesses. Justice seems served.
Late one night, while contemplating the sacrifice of his lost friend Pablo, Benjamín gets a call from Irene asking to see the rest of his book.
In 1975, the widower sees his wife's killer on television, included in a security detail for the president of Argentina, María Estela Martínez de Perón. Hastings and Espósito quickly establish that Romano, now working for a government intelligence agency, released the murderer to settle the old score. Romano justifies the release, claiming Gómez has been instrumental in obtaining information to combat left wing guerrillas and that his violent talents are too valuable to be squandered in prison. Romano insults them both, taunting Espósito for being beneath Hastings. Undeterred, she later invites Espósito to offer his objections to her impending marriage plans later that night. Before they can meet, however, he has to leave a very intoxicated Pablo in his living room to run and fetch Sandoval's wife to take him home, but when the two return, they find the front door broken and Pablo inside, shot to death with a submachine gun. Now fearing that Romano or Isidoro wants him killed, Espósito accepts the remote isolation of Jujuy Province. Hastings takes him to the train station for a disconsolate goodbye.
The novel complete, Irene shares her satisfaction with the results, although she doesn't find the scene in the train station believable. They agree the story lacks the right ending. Benjamín is looking for the answer to a question: "How does one live a life full of nothing?" With Irene's help, Benjamín locates Ricardo Morales leading a quiet life in a rural area of Buenos Aires Province, and takes his finished book there. Although the widower apparently has relinquished his obsession with the murder case, Benjamín has to ask him how he has lived without the love of his life for 25 years. When Benjamín repeats Pablo's final promise to get Isidoro, Ricardo hesitantly confesses that in 1975 he kidnapped Isidoro and shot him dead.
A disturbed Benjamín starts the drive back to the city, distracted that something does not seem right. Impulsively, he pulls over, leaves his car by the side of the road, and stealthily returns to Ricardo's property. He follows Ricardo into a small building near the main house, where he is shocked to find Isidoro living in a makeshift cell, undetectable from the outside. Isidoro plaintively asks Benjamín to request that Ricardo at least speak to him. Ricardo reminds Benjamín of his promise that Isidoro would never go free.
Benjamín pays his respects at Pablo's grave, then goes to see Irene with an evident sense of purpose. She notices something different in his eyes, reminds him that it will be complicated, and asks him to close the door.
- Ricardo Darín as Benjamín Espósito
- Soledad Villamil as Irene Hastings
- Guillermo Francella as Pablo Sandoval
- Pablo Rago as Ricardo Morales
- Javier Godino as Isidoro Gómez
- Mario Alarcón as juez Fortuna
- Mariano Argento as Romano
- José Luis Gioia as Inspector Báez
- Carla Quevedo as Liliana Coloto
The setting of the film ties its characters to the political situation in Argentina in the period just before and after Argentina's Dirty War and the country's last military dictatorship. The final three years of the presidency of Isabel Martínez de Perón saw great political turmoil, with both leftist violence and state-sponsored terrorism. A military coup in 1976 triggered the Dirty War and the regime's direct participation in state terrorism. The dictatorship's National Reorganization Process lasted from 1976 to 1983, marred by widespread human rights violations that to several sources amounted to a genocide.
For this joint Argentine/Spanish production, Campanella returned from the United States, where he had directed episodes of the television series House and Law & Order, to film The Secret in Their Eyes. It marked his fourth collaboration with actor-friend Ricardo Darín, who had previously starred in all three of Campanella's Argentine-produced films in the lead role. Frequent collaborator Eduardo Blanco, however, is not featured in the movie; the part of Darín's character's friend is played instead by comedian Guillermo Francella.
In addition to presenting the appropriate ambiance for Argentina in the mid-1970s, it features the realization of another formidable technical challenge in creating a continuous five-minute-long shot (designed by the visual effects supervisor Rodrigo S. Tomasso), that encompasses an entire stadium during a live football match. From a standard aerial overview we approach the stadium, dive in, cross the field between the players mid-match and find the protagonist in the crowd, then take a circular move around him and follow as he shuffles through the stands until he finds the suspect, only to conclude with a feverish stop-and-go chase on foot through the murky rooms and corridors beneath the stands, finally ending under the lights in the middle of the pitch. The scene was filmed in the stadium of football club Huracán, and took three months of pre-production, three days of shooting and nine months of post-production. Two hundred extras took part in the shooting, and visual effects created a fully packed stadium with nearly fifty thousand fans.
The Secret in Their Eyes received very positive reviews from critics, not only in Argentina, but also abroad; it holds a 91% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus being: "Unpredictable and rich with symbolism, this Argentine murder mystery lives up to its Oscar with an engrossing plot, Juan Jose Campanella's assured direction, and mesmerizing performances from its cast". On the website Metacritic it holds a score of 80/100, meaning "Generally favorable reviews", based on 36 critic reviews.
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- El secreto de sus ojos, de Juan José Campanella, by Diego Battle (Spanish)
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