The Secret in their Eyes: A Real Masterpiece

It was to the surprise of many when Argentina’s The Secret in their Eyes won the Oscar for Best Foreign film this year. Almost everyone expected Un Prophete or The White Ribbon to win, as those two excellent movies had been sweeping all the awards as of late. But The Secret in their Eyes holds its own. A very, very different film from the other two, Juan Jose Campanella’s work affects audiences more in the sense of its theme about life, romance and making the most of it and to beware of lost opportunities.

Set in Buenos Aires, the full movie centres on Esposito (Ricardo Darin), a former state investigator who is now retired. He is still haunted by an old case – the brutal murder of a young woman 25 years ago in 1974. A man named Gomez (Javier Godino) was arrested and sentenced to life, only to be set free when he became an informant for the country’s secret police. But Esposito still wonders. What happened to Gomez and where is he now? Deciding to write a novel about the case, Esposito goes to see his former boss Irene (Soledad Villamil) he was always secretly in love with.

Irene, the murder investigation had put Esposito at risk, causing him to suddenly leave Buenos Aires without ever revealing his feelings to her. Now, as he re-enterers Irene’s life and begins re-digging into the old case, Esposito sets out to bring closure to both his personal and professional life.

There are some flaws

The script has a few credibility flaws. One, the audience is expected to believe that in a football stadium holding thousands of fans, the detectives can locate the killer. Also, that the killer, identified from his eyes in a photograph is quite a far-fetched concept. But director Campanella never apologizes for them, moving his narrative on at a fast pace.

Campanella is fond of lingering his camera on his actors’ eyes, particularly on the character, Irene. The audience gets the point already. We can tell what is being said by the eyes.

There are good things too

To Campanella’s credit, he has two stunning sequences, one being the panoramic swooping shot of the football stadium only then to have the camera focus on the ball. The other is the incredibly romantic railway station scene. The one with Irene running after the leaving train is more than moving. He also skillfully blends a whodunit, love story and thriller into a remarkable tale of remorse and regret.

The film also contains a strong message against capital punishment, not from the point of inhumanity but from the point of effectiveness as a punishment. But the main message you get when you watch The Secret in their Eyes is clearly that one should not lead an empty, meaningless life of mere existence.

The Secret in their Eyes deservedly won this year’s Oscar. When I was on vacation in Buenos Aires, the Argentinean President had a special ceremony to celebrate the victory. Holding the golden statuette in her hands, the President said how proud the country is of this movie that has so much to say, especially on the death penalty.