Today: June 21, 2024

Secret In Their Eyes, The Cinema

Love, regret
and second chances. What
more do you want from a film?

When this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar went
to Argentinian thriller The Secret in Their Eyes over German misanthrope
Michael Haneke’s latest snooze-fest The White Ribbon there
were gasps of shock and outrage from film snobs around the world. After all
Haneke’s plotless, pointless parable on the birth of Nazism had won the Palme
at Cannes. It won the Golden Globe (always
a good barometer of Oscar glory). It had sent audiences to sleep around the
world. It was bleak. It was ponderous. It
was worthy. And it was black and white. How could it fail?

Stylish and intelligent, The Secret In Their Eyes is
everything The White Ribbon wasn’t; a subtle, moving thriller
satisfies both intellectually and emotionally. Retired
investigator Benjamin (Darin) is writing a book about the case that’s
haunted him for 25 years, a fictionalised account of his investigation into the
brutal rape and murder of a young bride, a crime where the
murderer escaped justice thanks to some dodgy government ties. His research
brings him back into contact with his former boss and unrequited love Irene
(the sparkling Soledad Villamil) and the still-grieving
husband of the murdered girl (Rago). As he tries to bring closure to the case and finally bring
to justice the killer who has eluded him half his life, Benjamin finds that
time doesn’t always heal and that sometimes keeping old wounds fresh is the
only way to keep going.

Working equally well as a police procedural as it does
a middle-aged romance, The Secret in Their Eyes is unafraid to
confront Argentina’s history of political corruption and brutality,
director Juan Jose Campanella effortlessly weaving together two disparate
timelines, framing the police procedural of the film’s central mystery against
the paranoid, violent, political upheaval of 1970s Buenos Aries
while Benjamin’s more personal, melancholic quest for
resolution takes place in the recent past, his journey from darkness and fear
through regret and finally to hope
emblematic of Argentina’s own journey from terror.

A veteran director of American TV cop shows,
Campanella displays a light, sure touch and despite the odd bravura flourish, a tense chase
through a
packed football stadium is a particular
, he never allows the action or the convoluted plot
to get in the way of his characters,
a collection of flawed but
fundamentally decent people briefly brought together by a horrific act
of violence that comes to shape the rest of their lives. Intricately
plotted, The Secret In Their Eyes juggles
its multiple storylines and flashbacks to create a thriller that is at least as
concerned with the spiritual and emotional fallout of murder as it is with the
more conventional whodunit aspects of the story.

As Benjamin, Ricardo Darin brings a crumpled
nobility to the role. Wearing the mistakes and regrets
of a lifetime on his face, the
always excellent Darin
is an all too
vulnerable and human hero; a tired,
middle-aged man trying to make sense of the path his life has taken and what it
has cost him. Soledad Villamil is elegant and luminous as
Irene, Benjamin’s boss and the love of his life and the scenes between the two sparkle; as
young co-workers their flirtation is a verbal sparring match
crackling with barely repressed sexual tension,
meeting again years later their scenes have a melancholic warmth, each
conversation tinged with the sadness and regret of
missed opportunities. Their slow-burn romance across the
decades is the engine that drives the film, their humanity pulling
you through the film’s darkest episodes. They are ably supported by Guillermo
Francella’s comic turn as Benjamin’s alcoholic partner and Pablo Rago as the
murdered girl’s grieving husband while Javier Godino’s swaggering
murderer is an arrogant thug given free reign to indulge his
baser instincts by a corrupt state.

Gripping and poignant, The Secret In Their Eyes is a
stylish meditation on guilt, loss, regret and
the obsessive power of love masquerading
as a murder-mystery. The true mystery Benjamin cannot
fathom at the centre of the film is the human heart, the resolution he’s
seeking an emotional one. A stunning, beautiful film that
sucks you in and lingers in the memory The Secret In Their
Eyes is a rich, rewarding cinematic experience.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email:

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