What an immensely satisfying picture this was. After three rum goes at the movies of late — Polanski’s Ghost Writer, Nash Edgerton’s The Square, and Bette Gordon’s Handsome Harry (reviewed below), we had almost given up on movie-going, figuring we were maybe getting too old or out of touch or something. But this renewed our faith in the medium, and confirmed our growing attraction to Spanish-language films (notably, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage, Volver, and Desperado).
The Secret in Their Eyes is a noir and a detective story and a romance, filled with memorable characters and — even in subtitles — thought-provoking speeches. We were immediately hooked by the doubly appealing story, told largely in flashback, of an unsolved, horrific rape/murder and an unresolved, presumably unrequited, love. Suffice to say that all is very rewardingly explored by film’s end, in a haunting and adult manner.
The movie is about passion. That is in fact the subject of one of the best scenes/speeches, where the hero’s alcoholic but extremely savvy co-worker explains, in the face of repeated failure in attempting to locate their main suspect in the aforementioned crime, that a man can change his location, his face, his situation, but he cannot change or hide his passion, the thing that matters most to him. Plotwise, this leads Benjamin and Sandoval to an edge-of-your-seat manhunt in a soccer arena, during a game.
The plot twists and turns and seems almost resolved at several points, but then more mysteries are unfolded as Benjamin pokes and prods at the case a quarter century later.
I won’t give away the plot — I see that done in too many blogs and that would ruin this movie — but I do want to remark on a few points. First is the smartness of the execution. Everything is about the eyes — almost all the main characters wear glasses which they are perpetually putting on and taking off; people constantly stare, glance, look, watch, spy. And a recurrent motif is the opening or closing of the office door of Benjamin’s boss and love, Irene. The main clue to the suspect is a look captured in a photo. And throughout, we visualize the past through Benjamin’s eyes — literally and literarily — as he attempts to write a novel of the case that won’t let go of him.
We are constantly introduced to men — and two women — of passion. The crime was committed out of passion. Benjamin, an assistant prosecutor, is in thrall to two passions: his passion to resolve the case, and his passion for Irene. Sandoval, his deputy, is in thrall to alcohol. And the unforgettable Morales, husband of the victim, is in thrall to justice.
Which leads to a third observation. Knowing nothing of the Argentine system of justice, it took a while to figure out that Irene and her staff were a district attorney’s office. And a number of scenes take place in the halls of justice — a grand, imposing, austere building. The implicit irony is that extremely ugly things happen in these halls — fistfights and stabs in the back and corruption and graft and all manner of injustice. Appearance versus reality indeed. It was something of a jolt to hear Peron’s name — Isabel. As we watch the inauguration on Benjamin’s TV, the film neatly and very precisely juxtaposes this embodiment of national corruption with the depravity at the core of Benajmin’s case.
So there was much to think about and learn and ponder afterwards. But the joy of this was that two hours flew by as we were totally swept up in this powerful and haunting film.