Monday, June 6, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Secret in Their Eyes / El secreto de sus ojos

The foreign language Oscar is a funny old thing, it has often been a source of controversy be it in the unfair nature of the nomination process or some of the more outlandish winners down through the years. 2010 seemed at first to be another such year, when a largely unheralded Argentinian thriller beat out France's Un Prophet and Haneke's The White Ribbon, two films that had done huge business and critical acclaim on the Indie scene in Europe and the US. However, it is only on closer viewing that it becomes apparent what a gem of a movie, and today's flick of the day, The Secret in Their Eyes is.
The film opens with Ricardo Darin as Benjamin, a recently retired law clerk and investigator is struggling to write a novel based on a vicious rape and murder case from the mid 70's. He enlists the help of his old boss, the beautiful Irene played by Soledad Vilamil, who he has carried a flame for, for many years. She expresses reservations for reasons which will eventually come apparent. The film then moves in flashbacks between the present day and 1970's Argentina which is rife with corruption and and the excesses of a military junta. A woman is found raped and murdered while her husband was at work, and two immigrant workers have a confession beaten out of them. Benjamin teams up with his lush colleague Sandoval to find the real killer. Together they identify various subtle details which point toward a childhood friend called Gomez. However finding evidence to obtain a conviction is much harder to obtain, doubly so when the political forces controlling intervene. As the past merges with the present, and old secrets come to the fore, Benjamin finds the shocking conclusion at the heart of this tale while perhaps forcing him to confront the heartache he has repressed all these years.
Juan Jose Campanella has created a film of outstanding breadth with such attention to subtle detail that is surpasses anything in the thriller genre I've seen in recent years. At times alternately shocking, frightening or delightfully heartfelt on any number of levels, it is an enjoyable viewing experience. The use of alternating flashbacks with present day action is a tried and tested method and as the plot moves on it exposes the fact that this is Benjamin's memory of events and is often not complete. 

Pablo Sandoval: A guy can change anything. His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion,his God. But there's one thing he can't change. He can't change his passion...

The central performances from Darin and Vilamal are measured and wonderfully realistic. They give the film a feeling of being true to life.  The setting of 1970's Argentina is an important one and central to understanding the film. Under the auspices of a military coup, a crackdown of all dissent was put in place and a fair trial became a thing of the past.
The film is not just a gripping tale well told, it is also a technical marvel. Campanella must now join the likes of Orson Welles in Touch of Evil for one of the most technically audacious shots of all time involving a packed football stadium and one continuous take from an aerial shot to the depths of the crowd to the bowels of the stadium to the grass on the pitch. Though surely digitally enhanced, it is a remarkable shot.
It is the little details which make the film from the stolen glances between Benjamin and Irene down through the years to the way in which the killer is tracked down to the throw away lines which turn out to have important significance in the final shake-up.
One of the best films of the last few years and a worthy Oscar winner, this just has to be seen by anyone with a passing interest in the power of modern cinema. Tellingly like so many of the great works of the last 5 years, it hasn't come from a big Hollywood Studio but from the foreign language screening of your local cinema. Why with all the opportunities and assets at their disposal do the major studios seem incapable of producing the kind of storytelling worthy of a bright literate audience? All the 3D in the world can't fix that.

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