Friday, May 7, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)

Juan José Campanella starts his magnum opus "The Secret in Their Eyes" with a stunning opening sequence, one that many have referred to as "innovative filmmaking," which is definitely true. I won't get into it for you. I will just say that it won't find its modern parallel for a long time. And in its genre, neither will this film. In modern filmmaking, there are not mystery thrillers this good anymore. Sure, it's not entirely perfect from top to bottom, but, as Ebert has said, how many films actually are? This is one of those films that you could hack for being conventional, but then again, this is how one (at least I) would picture a mystery. Campanella puts it together as you like, and thus makes it very immersive. You want to run through the characters' histories, their backstories, just like they have been doing.

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín) is a counselor or something for the police back in the 1970's (as a friend said, this film "looks great"). He gets on a case about a 23 year-old schoolteacher who got sexually assaulted and killed. As another friend said, this hangs over Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), the woman's husband. He won't be satisfied with the death penalty for redemption. "They just inject him and he takes a nap," he says to Esposito, "He won't get raped and murdered." Esposito says that the person responsible should get life, and Morales takes his word.

At this same time, Esposito is really madly in love with his supervisor, Irene (Soledad Villamil). As David Denby and my friend said, the film goes back and forth between past and present, so as to show the ends of the relationship that they have. Both I believe share an affection, but Esposito makes a decision that really shatters all that they could have had (ignoring the fact that she was engaged at the time). The real holdover in their relationship through time has been this Morales Case, which, like in the film "Zodiac," won't go away until solved for those involved. So, in the end, although the two different stories in the film seem unrelated, they fit into one another.


This is a film about passion, as the character Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) discusses. (Sandoval is a drunk and unreliable screwup, but he does have some insight). He says a "guy" can change a lot of things, but not his passion. In this film, two characters, Esposito and Morales, have passions for the past. They are defined by this passion, especially in the film's climax, which shows that not every passion is born by its holder as a positive trait. This film has a very serious moral, which is not to dwell on the past too much, or else you are consumed by it. This is demonstrated partially in the way that the film sometimes confusingly switches between 1974/75 and 2000, showing that Esposito always is looking "backwards" (as opposed to Irene, who states herself that the past is "out of her jurisdiction").


What a great film this is technically. The cinematography is phenomenal. Aside from the opening sequence (whose masterful signature shot, of a porthole of a train opening up to show the entire station, is displayed in the trailer), you have the now famous "soccer stadium scene," which is quite amazing, especially in its mind-blowing opening shot. Félix Monti (as others have said) is a master at work, and this is one of the best reasons to see this film. Well-cast, one of the best technical films in a while, and a mystery film that is able to be delved into probably more than once (although, as they say, you'll know what's coming), this is the best film of 2009. A

A note: This film does share a plot trait with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," which I did knock a couple weeks back for sharing a plot trait with David Fincher's "Se7en." I guess I'm more inclined to let it go as this film is made in much better taste and with much better skill.


Adelaide Dupont said...

If it's the best film of 2009 (according to your reckoning) then many who enjoy mystery thrillers and hunger to see a really good one will have a treat.

And not a treat only, but a substansive meal.

Literary Dreamer said...

Not sure if I agree with you that this was the best film of 2009, but it certainly was one of the best films of last year. Great dialogue, a good story, great acting, great characters (that live outside of the plot), excellent camera work, and [POSSIBLE SPOILER AHEAD] a climax that made so much sense, it was impossible to predict.

What I didn't expect was how much humor is in this film. It's not In Bruges, to be sure, but the fact that it could have humor in it and still know when to be serious is a tribute to the writers, the actors, and the director. An excellent film.

Nick Duval said...

Yeah, I know exactly what you mean about the humor.

And, yes, the declaration of it being the Best of 2009 is a little bold, and that in a stronger year (e.g. 2008) it would have been in the middle of the list. I had a shaky top 10 this year, most of which came from early on (so it's harder for me to defend it). I dunno. It was definitely a weak year, and this film sticks out.

But, no matter your standpoint, hopefully at least you can admit that the opening sequence was the best of the year.

BTW, just out of curiousity LiteraryDreamer, what was your favorite film last year?

--- Nick

Literary Dreamer said...

Yes, the only movie that challenges that opening sequence is the title sequence for Sita Sings the Blues, but nothing else that I saw this year came close.

As for my favorite movie of the year, I'd still have to go with The Hurt Locker, though this movie would certainly be in my top five.

Also, if you think The Secret in Their Eyes was the best film of the year, defend it! There's no right or wrong answer, and you could certainly argue that this movie should be in the running for best film, especially since it won the Best Foreign Film Oscar (which doesn't always mean anything, but did this year, since it beat out the favorite, The White Ribbon).

Nick Duval said...

Glad it won the BFF oscar, yes. "The White Ribbon" was over the top depressing while great in its craft and "A Prophet" was very good but a little muddled before the credits roll. "Ajami" wasn't in the same ballpark.

I should be more sure of myself, you're right.

Yeah, "Sita Sings the Blues" had a great title sequence. That film was in my top 5 last year, too. Loved that movie.

"The Hurt Locker" I've seen 1.5 times and I think it was definitely in my top 5 this year.