The Secret in Their Eyes – a DVD review

The winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, the Argentinian movie The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) immerses the viewer in a case that still haunts legal investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) twenty years later. Flashing back and forth between the present and the past (it is very easy to tell which is which by the aging make-up or lack of it on the main characters), we begin with retired Benjamin attempting to write a book about the Morales case, an unhappy story of the rape/murder of a then recently married schoolteacher.

Esposito is unable to put this case behind him, partly because of its unfinished nature, partly because it was the last time he saw his former boss, Irene, with whom he was in unrequited love.  As he revisits the people and places from his old life, feelings from his past resurface, along with his longstanding desire for real closure in the Morales case.

As this is a mystery, I’ll say no more about the plot. I have heard it described as a thriller, but I didn’t see it that way. It is definitely a whodunit, and moreso a whydunit, if you will.

I will admit to being a little distracted by my confusion with the Argentinian legal system. Benjamin investigates as a policeman, yet clearly works for a judge. Ricardo Darin gives Benjamin a deep sadness that you see even when he is joking. His insistence to Irene that people’s eyes give away their true emotions is certainly true with Benjamin himself. What an expressive face!

While the lead actors are very good, I have to give special mention to Guillermo Francella who gives Benjamin’s best friend and co-worker Pablo such depth of character. Pablo is stuck in a job he doesn’t like, working for people much younger who don’t appreciate him. He is a drunk with marital problems. In spite of this, he has so much dignity, and he gives what would otherwise be a rather serious movie a great deal of welcome humor, especially with his easy rapport with Benjamin.

The movie is directed by Juan Jose Campanella (who has directed much episodic U.S. television, such as Law and Order: Criminal Intent), and it is based on the book La Pregunta de Sus Ojos (The Question in Their Eyes) by Eduardo Sacheri. Argentina is now the only Latin American country to win two Oscars. Campanella gives the characters all a lot of space, whether in sweeping shots of the Argentinian country, or even in the city. Each character is somehow isolated from the others physically, to go with their emotional isolation.

The Secret in Their Eyes is in Spanish with English subtitles. DVD extras include 2 short featurettes, one on the behind the scenes filming, and one on the casting. It is available for rental and at Netflix.

by Heather Craig

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