The Secret in Their Eyes
|The Secret in Their Eyes|
Argentine theatrical poster
|Spanish||El secreto de sus ojos|
|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 crime drama film directed, co-written, produced and edited by Juan José Campanella, based on the novel La pregunta de sus ojos (The Question in Their Eyes) by Eduardo Sacheri, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The film is a joint production of Argentine and Spanish companies.
Using a nonlinear narrative, the film depicts a judiciary employee and his boss, a law clerk, in 1974, played by Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil, as they investigate a rape and murder case, while also following the characters 25 years later reminiscing over the case and unearthing the buried romance between them.
The film received awards in both Hollywood and Spain, notably the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, making Argentina, with 1985's The Official Story, 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. At the time of its release, it became the second highest-grossing film in Argentine history, surpassed only by 1975's Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf.
In 1999, Benjamín Espósito, a retired judiciary agent, decides to write a novel about a murder that happened in 1974, in which he was involved. Suddenly, a flashback starts.
In June 1974, Espósito starts investigating the murder of young Liliana Colotto de Morales, brutally raped and murdered in her home in Buenos Aires City. Her now-widower Ricardo Morales is devastated by the news; Espósito promises him to find the killer and give him a life sentence. Espósito is helped by his alcoholic assistant and friend Pablo Sandóval and the newly arrived Irene Menéndez-Hastings, a high-class young woman and the new department chief. Romano, Espósito’s rival, accuses two immigrant workers to quickly get rid of the affair, which angers Espósito upon discovering that both of them were tortured to obtain a confession. Espósito confronts Romano in a fit of rage.
Suddenly, Espósito finds a lead while watching old photos of the murdered young woman, which Morales gave him: many of them featured a man, identified as Isidoro Gómez, staring at the victim suspiciously. Espósito investigates Gómez and discovers that he lives and works in Buenos Aires City, but is unable to locate him. Espósito and Sandóval sneak into Gómez’s mother’s house in Chivilcoy, where both Gómez and the victim were born. During the break-in, they found some letters from Gómez to his mother. Sandóval steals them and Espósito finds out after returning to Buenos Aires. Back in Buenos Aires, their "visit" only causes them trouble with their higher-ups, and they are unable to find any evidence in the letters. Besides, Gómez is still on the loose due to a careless phone call from Morales to Gómez’s mother, in a desperate quest for his wife’s killer. After all the events, the young woman’s murder investigation is closed.
A while later, in 1975, Espósito finds Morales in a train station in Retiro and discovers that he was trying to find Gómez in multiple stations. Moved by Morales’ determination and love for his late wife, Espósito manages to convince Menéndez to reopen the investigation. Meanwhile, while getting drunk in a bar, Sandóval makes a discovery: an acquaintance of his identifies several names on the letters –seemingly without any connection– as footballers of Racing Football Club. After identifying him as a Racing fan, Espósito and Sandóval attend a game between Racing and Huracán, with hopes of finding Gómez.
While keeping an eye on the game’s attendees in Huracán’s stadium, Espósito and Sandóval locate Gómez among the crowd, but a sudden goal causes a hubbub and allows Gómez to flee. A chase ensues and Gómez barely escapes, but accidentally gets into the field and is caught by the stadium’s security guards. Espósito and Menéndez then grill him illegally, with Menéndez making Gómez confess after hurting his male pride. Gómez is tried and sentenced, but Romano bails him out one month later and hires him as a hitman for the right-wing faction of the Peronist Party in order to get revenge on Espósito. Espósito and Menéndez try to reverse it, but are stopped by Romano’s intervention. Espósito is given the hard task of informing Morales that his wife’s killer will be still on the loose, devastating the man even further.
Weeks after, Sandóval gets drunk and fights with another man in the bar he frequents, causing Espósito to take him to his flat and fetch his wife. When Espósito comes back with Sandóval’s wife, they find the door pried open, his pictures flipped over and Sandóval shot dead in his room. Espósito soon concludes that Romano sent hitmen after him but Sandóval impersonated him to protect his friend. Fearing for his life, Espósito goes into internal exile for ten years in Jujuy Province with Menéndez’s cousins to avoid Romano’s hitmen. Espósito returns to Buenos Aires in 1985 to find Gómez missing, Romano murdered during the National Reorganization Process and Menéndez married with two children.
Back in 1999, Benjamín Espósito tries to make sense out of the case and visits Ricardo Morales, who moved in 1975 to an isolated cottage in a rural area of the Buenos Aires Province. During the visit, both discuss several events of the case, but Ricardo loses control when Benjamín asks him how he coped with his wife’s death and the unfair end of the investigation, since Isidoro was never to be seen again after becoming part of Isabel Perón’s security detail. Ricardo tells Benjamín that he was able to kidnap Isidoro and shoot him dead in his car’s trunk, and Benjamín leaves. However, after deep thoughts, Benjamín stops his car and drives back to Ricardo’s house, remembering what Pablo Sandóval told him: “No one can change their passion”. Benjamín understands Ricardo’s eagerness to give Isidoro a life sentence instead of a death penalty, and hence concludes that he would never be able to kill Isidoro.
When the night falls, Benjamín finds Ricardo walking into a small barn with pieces of bread on a plate. Benjamín peeks through the back of the door and sees Ricardo carrying the plate to a dark and undetectable cell. A decrepit man comes out of the dark, who turns out to be an old and battered Isidoro, whom Ricardo kept imprisoned and fed for 25 years without talking to him. Isidoro approaches Benjamín and begs him for human contact, but a serious Ricardo says to Benjamín: “You promised me a life sentence”, referring to the latter’s promise for justice.
Back in Buenos Aires, Benjamín visits Pablo’s grave for the first time. He then goes to Irene Menéndez’s office, ready to confess his love to her, something she was always expecting from him. Smiling and expectant, they stay in the office together and close the door.
- Ricardo Darín as Benjamín Espósito, a judiciary employee in charge of solving the rape and murder of Liliana Coloto.
- Soledad Villamil as Irene Menéndez Hastings, a judge and Espósito's superior, who helps him with his investigation.
- Guillermo Francella as Pablo Sandoval, Espósito's alcoholic friend and assistant.
- Pablo Rago as Ricardo Morales
- Javier Godino as Isidoro Gómez
- Mario Alarcón as Judge Fortuna
- Mariano Argento as Romano
- José Luis Gioia as Inspector Báez
- Carla Quevedo as Liliana Coloto
Historical and political context
The setting of the film ties its characters to the political situation in Argentina in two different time periods: 1975 and 1999. The main events transpire in 1975, a year before the start of Argentina's last civil-military dictatorship (1976-1983); the final year of the presidency of Isabel Martínez de Perón saw great political turmoil, with both leftist violence and state-sponsored terrorism, especially at the hands of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (usually known as Triple A or AAA), a far-right death squad founded in 1973 and particularly active under Isabel Perón's rule (1974–1976). A military coup in 1976 triggered the so-called "Dirty War", which is foreshadowed in the character of Isidoro Gomez and his protection by the government due to his work helping that administration and its judicial system to find (and later kill) left-wing activists and militants or guerrilla members. The dictatorship's National Reorganization Process was a period of more than seven years marred by widespread human rights violations. The state-sponsored terrorism of the military Junta created a climate of violence whose victims were in the thousands and included left-wing activists and militants, intellectuals and artists, trade unionists, High School and College/University students and journalists, as well as Marxists, Peronist guerrillas or alleged sympathizers of both.
Some 10,000 of the disappeared were guerrillas of the Montoneros (MPM), the oldest guerrilla organization, which began to operate in 1970, and the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP). Although in the period there was leftist violence involved, mostly by Montoneros, most of the victims were unarmed non-combatants, and the guerrillas were exterminated by 1979, while the dictatorship carried out its crimes until the exit from power, which was accelerated after the country's defeat in the Malvinas/Falklands War in 1982, and the call for elections one year later. The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons originally estimated that around 13,000 individuals were disappeared. Present estimates for the number of people who were killed or disappeared range from 9,089 to over 30,000; The military themselves reported killing 22,000 people in a 1978 communication to Chilean Intelligence, and the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which are the most important Human-Rights Organisations in Argentina, have always jointly maintained that the number of disappeared is unequivocally 30,000.
Since 1983 Argentina has maintained democracy as its ruling system: in that year Raúl Alfonsín was elected President and soon spoke out against the Argentinian junta's use of torture and death squads who spirited away "the disappeared" and killed them, hiding their bodies in unknown locations. In office, Alfonsín set about punishing police and troops who were responsible for unknown thousands of deaths in the so-called "dirty war". By 1985 the government had promoted the Trial of the Juntas, which prosecuted and condemned the men who were at the top of the military hierarchies during the country's last dictatorship, stopping short of prosecuting the other militars and civilians who were also responsible for the period's crimes.
The second period portrayed is 1999, during the last days of Carlos Menem's administration. During this time, the national laws known as the "Full stop" law ("Ley de Punto Final") and Due Obedience – sanctioned during the 1980s – were still in effect. These legal elements, popularly known as "the amnesty laws", had effectively blocked the investigation of thousands of cases of human rights abuses committed during the time of the country's last dictatorship. This period of Argentina's History is shown to stress the predicament in which the character of Ricardo Morales lived, since the impunity that criminals and human rights abusers like Gómez enjoyed at the time prevented Morales to bring the former to justice: the penal system would have convicted Morales for his past actions. At the same time, many former torturers and murderers of the dictatorship – who had previously been friends or partners of Gómez – were free at the time, and would have likely taken revenge on Morales. This fact further explains why Morales isolated and locked himself up with Gómez for so many years. In 2003 the political climate changed, and during President Nestor Kirchner's administration, the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws, along with the executive pardons, were declared null and void, first by the Congress and then by the Supreme Court. These changes, promoted by the government in 2005, enabled the judicial power to prosecute and trial all the orchestrators of State-sponsored terrorism, also including politically-motivated criminal acts committed in 1975. The crimes of that period are still being judged as of 2019.
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: Special Victims Unit, 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 a formidable technical achievement in creating a continuous five-minute-long shot (designed by 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 him as he shuffles through the stands until he finds the suspect, continuing 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% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 136 reviews, and an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus is: "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 out of 100, based on 36 critical reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
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