The Secret in Their Eyes
|The Secret in Their Eyes|
Spanish language theatrical poster
|Directed by||Juan José Campanella|
|Produced by||Juan José Campanella
|Written by||Eduardo Sacheri
Juan José Campanella
|Based on||La pregunta de sus ojos by
José Luis Gioia
|Music by||Federico Jusid
|Editing by||Juan José Campanella|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics
Distribution Company (Argentina)
|Running time||127 minutes|
|Box office||$33,965,279 |
The Secret in Their Eyes (Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos) is a 2009 Argentine crime thriller directed by Juan José Campanella from a screenplay by Eduardo Sacheri and Campanella based on Sacheri's novel La pregunta de sus ojos (The Question in Their Eyes). The film, a joint production of Argentine and Spanish companies, stars Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil.
The film covers the years 1974-1975 and 2000 to tell the story of a rape and murder case that has an enduring effect on the people closest to it: the investigators, the victim's husband and the killer. This takes place before Argentina's Dirty War (1976–1983), during which criminality and violence were rampant and often went unpunished.
In 2009, it was the recipient of awards in both Hollywood and Spain. The picture won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, and, with 1985's The Official Story, made Argentina the first country in Latin America to win it twice – Luis Puenzo's The Official Story (La historia oficial) received it in 1985. Three weeks before, it had received the Spanish equivalent with the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film. As of 2010, it is only surpassed at the Argentine box office by Leonardo Favio's 1975 classic Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf (Nazareno Cruz y el lobo).
Retiree Benjamín Espósito is having trouble getting started on his first novel. He pays a visit to the offices of Judge Irene Menéndez- Hastings to tell her about his plans to recount the story of the Coloto case, the one they both worked on 25 years before, when she was his new department chief and he was the federal agent assigned to the case. She suggests he start in the beginning.
So his novel begins the day a federal agent named Espósito is assigned to the rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, attacked in her home on a pretty June morning in 1974. Espósito promises her widowed husband, Ricardo Morales, that the killer will do life for his crime. His investigation is joined by his alcoholic friend and assistant, Pablo Sandoval, and the Cornell-educated Hastings. Before the three can start, their rival, Romano, tries to show them up by having officers beat a confession out of two innocents who worked near the couple's apartment. Espósito gets them released and tries to attack Romano in a justice building hall.
Back on the case, the agent finds a clue to the murderer's identity in Liliana's photo albums. He notices that pictures from her home town of Chivilcoy frequently show a suspicious young man named Isidoro Gómez; his eyes never leave her.
Irene finds this draft of the story unbelievable, since she does not agree that an agent can identify a killer by the look in his eyes. Benjamín insists all of a young man's feeling for a woman is spoken there.
Although Gómez was recently in Buenos Aires, he has left both his apartment and employment. Espósito and Sandoval travel to Chivilcoy and sneak into Gómez's mother's house, turning up his letters to her. Sandoval steals them but they contain nothing useful and, when their supervising judge learns of the illegal action, the case is closed.
Over an evening review of the manuscript, Benjamín reminds Irene that it was only one week later that she announced her engagement. The memory is poignant, and she decides that she cannot revisit the past through his novel any more.
A year after the case was closed, Espósito runs into Morales and learns that he maintains daily surveillance at Buenos Aires train stations to catch Gómez passing through. Deeply impressed, Espósito successfully appeals to Hastings to reopen the case. In the end, Sandoval produces the critical insight: he realizes the names in the letters refer to players on Racing Club, a Buenos Aires football club, indicating his fixed "passion" for the team. Therefore, Espósito and Sandoval attend a match for Racing and spot Gómez in the crowd. He slips away when a Racing goal sends the crowd into a frenzy, is pursued through the throbbing stadium and nearly vanishes before he is cornered and chased on to the pitch, arrested, and taken in for questioning.
Espósito's largely illegal interrogation is interrupted by Hastings, but when she finds herself looking in the suspect's eyes, she uses her status and sexuality to provoke him with taunts about his masculine inadequacies. It works: he exposes himself and takes a swing at her in the same moment he confesses. Justice seems served.
Late one night, while contemplating the sacrifice of his lost friend Pablo Sandoval, Benjamín gets a call from Irene asking to see the rest of the story.
In 1975, the widower sees his wife's killer on television, included in a security detail for the president of Argentina. Hastings and Espósito quickly establish that Romano, now working for a special government agency, released the murderer to settle the old score, and he insults them both, taunting Espósito for being beneath Hastings. Undeterred, she invites Espósito to offer his objections to her impending marriage plans that night. Before they can meet, however, he has to leave a very intoxicated Sandoval in his living room to run and fetch Sandoval's wife to take him home, but when the two return they find the front door broken and Sandoval inside, shot to death with a submachine gun, apparently by Romano's henchmen. To save his own life, Espósito accepts the isolation of Jujuy Province, near the border with Bolivia. Hastings takes him to the train station for a disconsolate goodbye.
The novel complete, Irene shares her satisfaction with the results, although she doesn't believe the scene in the train station. They agree the story lacks the right ending. Benjamín is looking for the answer to a question: "How does one live a life full of nothing?"
With Irene's help, Benjamín locates Ricardo Morales leading a quiet life in a rural area of Buenos Aires Province, and takes his finished book there. Although the widower apparently has relinquished his obsession with the murder case, Benjamín has to ask him how he has lived without the love of his life for 25 years. When Benjamín repeats Pablo's final promise to get Gómez, Ricardo hesitantly confesses that in 1975 he ended Gómez's stalking of Benjamín by kidnapping and shooting him dead.
A disturbed Benjamín starts the drive back to the city, distracted by something that doesn't seem right. Impulsively, he pulls over, leaves his car by the side of the road, and stealthily returns to Ricardo's property. He follows Ricardo into a small building set near the main house, where he is shocked to find Gómez living in a makeshift cell, undetectable from the outside. Gómez plaintively asks Benjamín to request Ricardo to talk to him. Ricardo reminds Benjamín of his promise that Gómez would never go free.
Benjamín pays his respects at Pablo's grave, then goes to see Irene with an evident sense of purpose. She notices something different in his eyes, reminds him that it will be complicated, and asks him to close the door.
- Ricardo Darín ... Benjamín Espósito
- Soledad Villamil ... Irene Hastings
- Guillermo Francella ... Pablo Sandoval
- Pablo Rago ... Ricardo Morales
- Javier Godino ... Isidoro Gómez
- Mariano Argento ... Romano
- Carla Quevedo ... Liliana Coloto
- José Luis Gioia ... Inspector Báez
The setting of the film ties its characters to the political situation in Argentina during the three years immediately before the Dirty War, when political turmoil characterized the presidency of Isabel Martínez, with both leftist violence and state-sponsored terrorism. The 1976 military coup ended the episode and triggered the Dirty War. The dictatorship – self-pronounced as National Reorganization Process – lasted from 1976 to 1983, and while ruling the country committed a genocide.
Victims of the violence were several thousand left-wing activists and militants, including trade unionists, students, journalists, Marxists, Peronist guerrillas and alleged sympathizers. Some 10,000 of the disappeared were guerrillas of the Montoneros (MPM), the oldest guerrilla organization, which began to operate in 1970, and the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP). Although in the period there was leftist violence involved, mostly by Montoneros, the guerrillas were exterminated more or less in 1979. Estimates for the number of people who were killed or disappeared range from 9,089 to over 30,000; the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons estimates that around 13,000 disappeared.
For this joint Argentine/Spanish production, Campanella returned from the United States, where he had directed episodes of the television series House and Law & Order, to film The Secret in Their Eyes. It marked his fourth collaboration with actor-friend Ricardo Darín, who had previously starred in all three of Campanella's Argentine-produced films in the lead role. Frequent collaborator Eduardo Blanco, however, is not featured in the movie; the part of Darín's character's friend is played instead by comedian Guillermo Francella.
In addition to presenting the appropriate ambience for Argentina in the mid-1970s, it features the realization of another formidable technical challenge in creating a continuous five-minute-long shot (designed by the visual effects supervisor Rodrigo S. Tomasso), that encompasses an entire stadium during a live football match. From a standard aerial overview we approach the stadium, dive in, cross the field between the players mid-match and find the protagonist in the crowd, then take a circular move around him and follow as he shuffles through the stands until he finds the suspect, only to conclude with a feverish stop-and-go chase on foot through the murky rooms and corridors beneath the stands, finally ending under the lights in the middle of the pitch. The scene was filmed in the stadium of football club Huracán, and took three months of pre-production, three days of shooting and nine months of post-production. Two hundred extras took part in the shooting, and visual effects created a fully packed stadium with nearly fifty thousand fans.
The Secret in Their Eyes received very positive reviews from critics, not only in Argentina, but also abroad; it holds a 92% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus being: "Unpredictable and rich with symbolism, this Argentinian murder mystery lives up to its Oscar with an engrossing plot, Juan Jose Campanella's assured direction, and mesmerizing performances from its cast". On the website Metacritic it holds a score of 81/100, meaning "Universal acclaim", based on 33 critic reviews.
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- Official website (Spanish)
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