By Matt Brunson
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
DIRECTED BY Juan Jose Campanella
STARS Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil
The most recent Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) seized its victory from the maw of the overrated frontrunner The White Ribbon. But awards are ultimately just a feather in the cap of coscripter-director Juan Jose Campanella; the real victory is the film itself, a dizzying mix of suspense, intrigue and romance.
Cowriting the script with Eduardo Sacheri, the author of the source novel, Campanella has crafted a story that's set in both the mid-1970s and roughly a quarter-century later. The '70s segment centers on Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), a midlevel employee in the Buenos Aires court system. Esposito is smitten with his boss, Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil), and has his hands full keeping his perpetually drunk colleague Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) out of trouble. But such matters are pushed to the back of his mind after he's sent out to investigate a crime and encounters the corpse of the victim (Carla Quevedo), a beautiful woman who was raped and murdered. Esposito promises the shell-shocked husband (Pablo Rago) that the perpetrator will be caught and punished, but various factions work against his best intentions. The sequences set 25 years later find Esposito, now retired, electing to write a book about the whole ordeal. He visits Irene and tries to get her help in reexamining the events of the day; clearly, a spark remains between them.
To reveal more would be criminal, since one of the film's pleasures is the manner in which it doles out crucial information one parcel at a time. A narratively foggy scene that may last only a few seconds will pop up again later, this time filling in important details. The relationships between the characters are fully formed, with many of the best sequences finding Esposito and his boozy pal Sandoval bickering more like a longtime married couple than colleagues working on the same case (this story thread results in one of the film's most poignant denouements). And Campanella proves to be adept a director as he is a writer, as witnessed by a remarkable sequence set inside a soccer stadium. It's all exhilarating stuff, and it leads to a conclusion that will haunt and satisfy just about anyone who's ever mulled over the inadequacies of the world's courts.