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 a judge in 1974, played by Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil, as they investigate a rape and murder case that the justice people become obsessed by, 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 Oscar 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.
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, which they had 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 was marked by the discovery of Coloto's body; the woman was raped and murdered in her home in 1974. Espósito promises her widower, Ricardo Morales, that the killer will do life for his crime. Morales says that he opposes the death penalty. Espósito's investigation is joined by his alcoholic friend and assistant, Pablo Sandoval, and Menéndez, who got her law degree at Cornell Law School in the United States. Before the three can start, their rival, Romano, tries to show them up by having officers beat confessions out of two innocent laborers, who had been working near the couple's apartment. Espósito has the confessions overturned and lashes out at Romano in a justice building hall. Espósito threatens to file a complaint as Romano racially insults the construction workers.
Back on the case, Espósito notices that pictures from Coloto's home town of Chivilcoy frequently show a man named Isidoro Gómez, whose eyes always follow Coloto. Although Irene is skeptical, Benjamín insists all of a young man's feeling for a woman is spoken in his eyes. Learning that Gómez has disappeared, 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. When their supervising judge learns of this illegal action, the case is closed. Over an evening review of the manuscript, Benjamín reminds Irene that it was a week later that she announced her engagement. He also recalls backing out of a conversation with her, in which he was about to shut the door. The memory is poignant, and Irene decides that she cannot revisit the past through his novel anymore.
After a year, the case is reopened when Espósito sees that Morales maintains daily surveillance of Buenos Aires railway stations in his search for Gómez. After receiving Menéndez's approval, Sandoval studies the letters. He notices references to the players of the Racing Football Club in Buenos Aires. Espósito and Sandoval attend four matches of Racing and finally spot Gómez in the crowd. Gómez leads the police on a chase before they catch and arrest him. Menéndez is able to break Gómez by making taunting remarks about him being too weak to commit the crime. Feeling emasculated, Gómez exposes his penis and shouts a confession.
In 1975, the widower sees his wife's killer on television, included in a security detail for the then president of Argentina, María Estela Martínez de Perón. Menéndez and Espósito quickly establish that Romano, now working for a government intelligence agency, released the murderer out of spite. Romano claims that Gómez has violent talents that should be used to combat left wing guerrillas instead of being "squandered" in prison. Romano insults them both, taunting Espósito for being beneath Menéndez. 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 Sandoval in his living room to fetch his wife. When they return, they find Sandoval murdered. Espósito assumes he was the target of either Romano or Gómez and accepts the remote isolation of Jujuy Province. Espósito takes Irene to the train station for a disconsolate goodbye.
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. When Irene finishes reading, she and Benjamin still seek inspiration for a suitable ending. They are able to locate Ricardo Morales leading a quiet life in a rural area of Buenos Aires Province. 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. Feeling that something is not right, Benjamín follows Ricardo to a small building near the main house, where he is shocked to find Isidoro living in a makeshift cell, undetectable from the outside. Isidoro begs for human contact and 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, 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. 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 2018.
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% 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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