"El secreto de sus ojos", de Juan José Campanella (nuevas críticas)

By Joe Morgenstern/Wall Street Journal

An old Olivetti typewriter provides a running joke in "The Secret in Their Eyes," the Argentine drama that won a foreign-language Oscar last month—the machine can't type the letter 'A.' And the letter 'A' makes all the difference in the world when the hero inserts it in the middle of a one-word note, 'temo,' that he has written to himself. Then 'I fear' becomes 'I love you.' These are clever details in a drama that transcends cleverness. This beautiful film, directed with subtlety and grace by Juan José Campanella, really is about moving from fear to love.

The story begins in contemporary Buenos Aires, when Benjamin Espósito, a retired criminal investigator played by Ricardo Darín, decides to revisit a cold case—the brutal murder of a young woman—by writing a novel about it. In doing so he revisits his still-warm case of love for Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a Cornell-educated lawyer, now a judge with a husband and children, who was a beautiful young prosecutor when they worked together a quarter of a century ago.

If you were diagramming the script, which the director and Eduardo Sacheri adapted from Mr. Sacheri's novel, you might divide it between these two elements, an unsolved murder and unresolved love. No movie in memory, though, is less schematic. Elements intertwine. Feelings emerge, recede, resurface. Wit and humor—and remnants of hope—sustain lives burdened with regret. The movie is very much a murder mystery, and very much a love story—in fact a pair of stories about obsessive love lived out by two men with ostensibly different attitudes toward the past, and very different outcomes. It's also a meditation on the passage of time and the uses of memory, an argument for never looking back—"You'll have a thousand pasts and no future," the murder victim's husband tells Benjamin (with what turns out to be startling irony)—and, in a romantic vein, an advertisement for acting on love at whatever time of life.

Exceptional movies are often about many things, and that's certainly the case with this one. I can't recall a more dramatic interrogation than the scene in which a suddenly ferocious Irene tries, to Benjamin's astonishment, to break an implacable suspect. Or a more engagingly odd couple than Benjamin and his colleague Sandoval, an investigator with a fondness for wry jokes and booze. Or a more poignant leave-taking, when Irene and Benjamin embrace but don't kiss, and fear trumps love. (All of it is enhanced by Félix Monti's burnished, sometimes brooding cinematography.)

Of the two previous films I've seen starring Ricardo Darín, "Son of the Bride," which was also directed by Mr. Campanella, is out of print on DVD—please, Sony Pictures Classics, reissue it—but "Nine Queens" remains available, and I've discussed it in more detail elsewhere on this page. A formidable actor with commanding star quality, Mr. Darín, who is in his sixties, plays Benjamin in his thirties persuasively—the actor's vitality is more important than his young-age makeup. In the present-day passages he makes the hero an aging sophisticate whose urbane demeanor conceals suppressed but far from extinguished passion. Ms. Villamil's Irene is quick-witted and alluring in the past and present alike. In a film of impeccable performances, three other standouts are Guillermo Francella, who plays Sandoval; Pablo Rago as Morales, the bereaved husband whose love was almost unfathomably pure; and Javier Godino as the prime suspect, Isidoro Gómez, a figure of pure malevolence at a time in the 1970s when Argentina's military dictatorship was bringing evil back into style.


A cold case and thawing hearts
By Ann Hornaday/Washington Post

Oscar mavens will recognize "The Secret in Their Eyes" as one of the few genuine upsets at this year's ceremony. The Argentine drama wound up winning for Best Foreign Language Film, upending expectations that Jacques Audiard's superb "A Prophet" would take home the award.

Although fans of "A Prophet" aren't likely to change their minds about who got robbed that night, they will no doubt concede that "The Secret in Their Eyes," an elegant romantic thriller adapted from a novel of the same name, is a terrific film. An absorbing story of the unlikely intersection of an unrequited love affair and an unresolved crime, this taut thriller features some bravura cinematic moments and memorable performances from an exceptionally attractive cast of players.

"The Secret in Their Eyes" opens in the present day, when former prosecution investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darn), now retired, begins work on a novel about a case that has been haunting him since 1974, when a young woman was brutally raped and killed and the legal system failed to bring her killer to justice. When Benjamin takes a draft of his book to his former boss, Irene (Soledad Villamil), they begin to reminisce about their own relationship, professional and otherwise. Director Juan Jos Campanella smoothly navigates between past and present, and with each expertly timed revelation "The Secret in Their Eyes" begins to take on deeper layers of meaning that span Benjamin's personal feelings of culpability and the corrupt political backdrop of Argentina's notorious "Dirty War."

If the film's climactic twist borders on the luridly outlandish, Campanella deserves credit for staging it with restraint and for assembling a first-rate cast of seasoned actors. (Villamil, who resembles an Argentine Julie Christie, is a particular revelation.) A stunning unbroken take shot in the midst of a soccer match is worth the price of admission, ample reward for filmgoers whose only desire once the lights go down is to be astonished.


Rick Groen
Toronto's Globe and Mail
The Secret in Their Eyes

Directed by Juan Jose Campanella
Written by Juan Jose Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri
Starring Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil

In the opening frames, a one-word note, scrawled by an aging man on a bedside pad in the seconds before sleep overtakes him, reads simply, “Temo” – I fear. What follows is a murder mystery, a romance, a comedy, a political document, and a dissertation on memory and truth, all seamlessly interwoven into a life-long journey that ends with the addition of a single transformative letter. Among the many secrets in The Secret in Their Eyes is how that old man gains the knowledge, and the courage, to elevate himself from “Temo” to “Te Amo” – from the clutches of fear to the balm of love. Such an arduous journey, yet such an effortless film. Both are remarkable; together, they won this year’s Oscar for best foreign picture.

We start in the movie’s present where Esposito, a retired criminal investigator, is struggling to write a novel about “the Morales case” – that is, a fictional representation of an actual tragedy that occurred way back in 1974. Early on, he pays a visit to his former colleagues in the Buenos Aires court system, including a now-prominent judge named Irene, and they banter with the witty cynicism of the professional classes. Yet there’s a palpable sadness clinging to Esposito. It’s not just that he’s divorced and living alone, but something larger, some unresolved emptiness endured over the decades.

The flashback returns us 25 years to the source of that emptiness. Irene, a blueblood educated at Cornell’s law school, has just arrived at the office. As their eyes meet, Esposito feels an instant attraction to her, and she to him, but he’s intimidated by their difference in social status. That’s the frustrated love story, a “what if?” tale of missed opportunities. Enter the murder mystery, which centres on the rape and killing of a young woman, a new bride with a devoted husband. Looking on as his superiors lazily arrest a pair of black migrant workers, then beat a confession out of them, Esposito strenuously objects, obtains the innocents’ release, and pursues the investigation on his own. But to no avail – the case is abandoned. Only he and the grieving husband, Morales, seem to care.

However, a year later, Esposito follows a new lead and tracks down the suspect to a packed soccer stadium – and director Juan Jose Campanella suddenly switches tactics, trading in his lingering close-ups for hand-held action. The chase sequence is heart-pounding, and, for very different reasons, so is the interrogation scene that follows, the one that sees Gomez (Javier Godino), the loosest of cannons, angrily blurt out his guilt. But remember the political backdrop. This is the seventies, the emerging period of the Argentine police state and of “the disappeared.” In such a state, men like Gomez, cruel men with homicidal talents, are useful. Horrifyingly, the government grants him a full executive pardon; he’s put to work.

Throughout these narrative turns, the film oscillates between the past and the present, as the older Esposito, and the audience too, strain to peer through the mists of time for answers that aren’t opaque. What happened to the wicked Gomez? To the long-suffering Morales? For that matter, what happened to Esposito himself, whose quest for justice in an unjust era made him highly vulnerable? This is where the vagaries of memory and truth suffuse the picture. For instance, Irene looks back at that period as she would at a faded photograph: “I don’t recognize myself. Who am I?” Esposito echoes her conclusion: “I was another person.” For them, and by extension for Argentina itself, the Morales case and its political context were a real nightmare that has grown surreal in retrospect.

How, then, to return that history to the realm of truth? Through memory, of course, but memory plays tricks – it’s the novel we’re all continually writing about our past. So, although the movie’s final act provides answers, offers a resolution, the melodramatic twists also raise suspicions that make it difficult to completely suspend our disbelief. Esposito has a similar problem. Yes, history contains hard facts, but he knows that time tends to encrust those facts in a layering of fiction, and, when it does, only this can be said: “Maybe that’s what happened.”

The wonder is that the film balances its many genres, from the thorns of murder to the bloom of romance to the thickets of politics, with such easy grace. Led by Ricardo Darin as truth’s crusader and Soledad Villamil as love’s beacon, the cast all deliver impeccably naturalistic performances, never theatrical and grounded in the sort of casual humour that lightens even the bleakest succession of days.

But naturalism isn’t realism, and that’s precisely the point here. Over a lifetime of chances seized and lost, of lies told and retracted, our eyes harbour secrets that our mind both knows and doesn’t know. To unravel those secrets can be a hero’s quest or a fool’s errand, and Esposito is duly warned: “Forget about it. You’ll have a thousand pasts and no future.” Maybe so, maybe not – after all, infected by the same germ of hope, history’s heroes are close cousins to its fools.


The Secret in Their Eyes
Imagine a really long, really awesome episode of Law & Order set in Buenos Aires.
By Dana Stevens/Slate

The Secret in Their Eyes (Sony Pictures Classics), the Argentinean movie that won best foreign-language film at this year's Oscars after a brief run in New York last year, opens today in selected cities and will expand to more cities in May. The film's director, Juan José Campanella, has helmed a string of Argentinean hits in addition to multiple episodes of Law & Order, and if you imagine that compact procedural spun out into a thriller spanning 25 years (and set in the elegant streets of Buenos Aires), you'll get the general idea of what this movie feels like. It's a tightly plotted murder mystery that unfolds in leisurely, satisfying detail and manages to cram a whole miniseries' worth of events into its two-hour running time. Based on a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret in Their Eyes is an old-fashioned movie-movie, the kind that's substantial enough to go out to dinner after and discuss all the way through dessert.

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin, whose formidable, brooding presence anchors the film) is a recently retired criminal court investigator. Divorced and depressed, he decides to write a novel based on a 25-year-old cold case that's never ceased to haunt him. In 1974, a young married woman was raped and beaten to death in her apartment. The corrupt local police tortured two construction workers into falsely confessing to the crime. In an extended flashback, we see the younger Benjamin interviewing the victim's widower, Morales (Pablo Rago). Together they become convinced that the real killer is Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), a drifter from the girl's rural hometown. Benjamin enlists the help of his bumbling alcoholic colleague, Pablo (the wonderful Guillermo Francella) in tracking down the elusive Gomez. But they lack the evidence to convict Gomez, who's such a skilled sociopath that he's eventually recruited by the Buenos Aires police to carry out their extrajudicial dirty work.

Though the film never trumpets its wider ambitions, this crime thriller also functions as a study of institutional corruption and a treatise on the inconsistency of memory. As part of the research for his novel, Benjamin visits Irene (Soledad Villamil), a judge he worked with on the murder case and has secretly been in love with ever since. Their differing versions of what took place, both professionally and romantically, provide the structuring principle of the film. Campanella (who also edited) makes the present-day and flashback scenes seem part of a seamless whole, and the aging of the two main characters is handled more believably than it is in many Hollywood movies with far more to spend on makeup and special effects.

Any film that tells a story this intricate and sweeping is bound to have a few plot holes. A scene in which the investigators track down the perp in a packed soccer stadium provides an excuse for a breathtaking chase sequence, but it makes no logical sense. And one or two moments involving the killer (played with unsettling intensity by Godino, who resembles a young Christian Bale) threaten to cross the line from suspense into out-and-out melodrama. But The Secret in Their Eyes is large enough in scope to transcend these minor flaws. It's a cracking good murder mystery that, by the time the final twist kicks in, transforms into an moving meditation on memory and justice.


4 stars for 'The Secret in Their Eyes'
Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune
Movie critic
April 22, 2010

What are the odds that the year's most compelling mystery would end up hanging its hat on the year's richest love story?

From Argentina, "The Secret in Their Eyes" won this year's Academy Award for best foreign language film, besting such formidable titles as "The White Ribbon" and "A Prophet." All three offer lessons in combining pulp and sociology, bringing to life geographically specific and richly detailed worlds on screen. Of the three, though, it's this one — co-written, co-produced, edited and directed by Juan Jose Campanella — that really delivers as entertainment.

Campanella's resume is fascinating: He was born in Buenos Aires, where most of this legal drama takes place, but he has done a lot of American television in what could broadly be defined as workplace procedurals, ranging from "Law & Order" and "House" to "30 Rock." "The Secret in Their Eyes" ranges nearly as widely within its own 129 minutes.

You never quite know where it's going, yet its mixture of tones and colors and melodrama and mature, mellow romance is irresistible.

It takes a while to get the hang of its two-track narrative structure, adapted by Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri from Sacheri's novel. A divorced, 60-ish and recently retired criminal court investigator has undertaken a writing project, a fictionalized version of a 25-year-old rape and murder case never solved. Benjamin Esposito — played by Ricardo Darin — revisits his old haunts to bring the past into some kind of focus. His former colleague (Soledad Villamil), now a judge, has tantalized Esposito since they first met. He remains haunted by this woman, no less than the murder victim's grieving husband (Pablo Rago) is haunted by his own loss.

The movie works for many reasons. Each major character registers, both as written and as acted by this superb cast, and is vivid enough to deserve a film of his or her own. The wry, funny interaction of these midlevel bureaucrats, including Esposito's alcoholic but wily colleague (Guillermo Francella), moves and sounds and feels like life. (At times you might think you're watching two terrific episodes of "Law & Order" back to back, if "Law & Order" were set in Buenos Aires.)

Half the film unfolds in flashback in 1970s Argentina, as Esposito and his intrepid colleagues buck the system and try to solve a murder case rapidly growing cold. When they do catch up with their prime suspect, the scene's a fantastic showpiece: a chase all over a packed soccer stadium, seamlessly connecting several long takes, the most memorable of which follows the suspect onto the field during the match. (A key scene preceding this, one of ugly sexual goading behind closed office doors, is in its explicit way no less arresting.)

The mystery's resolution may remind you of Dennis Lehane's crime and morality tales. The script's exploration of a corrupt judicial system recalls the best of Sidney Lumet's ensemble works. But the love story is what sets "The Secret in Their Eyes" apart. Make no mistake, the film's a bit shameless: The poetic, running-to-say-goodbye-at-the-train-station prologue and its bookend sequence carry a whiff of the romance novel ethos. Yet Darin and Villamil are wonderful together, playing actual, three-dimensional grown-ups. It's a shock to the system, let me tell you.

There's nothing high-minded or consciously elevating about this picture. It's simply the best kind of pulp, done with feeling and smarts and behavioral details usually left out of both crime films and love stories.

4 stars

MPAA rating:
R (for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language)
Ricardo Darin (Benjamin Esposito); Soledad Villamil (Irene); Pablo Rago (Ricardo); Guillermo Francella (Pablo Sandoval); Javier Godino (Isidoro Gomez)
Directed by Juan Jose Campanella; written by Eduardo Sacheri and Campanella, based on Sacheri's novel; produced by Gerardo Herrero, Mariela Besuievsky and Campanella. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 2:09.


'Secrets' And Lies Drive An Oscar-Worthy Thriller

At last month's Academy Awards, the biggest upset -- virtually the only upset from an oddsmaker's point of view -- came when Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes took home the statuette for Best Foreign Language Film.

Most observers had pegged that category as a two-way race between France's Godfather-like crime epic A Prophet and Germany's austere social critique The White Ribbon. Instead, Oscar voters went for a noirish thriller that splits the difference between the two -- a taut murder mystery with a political conscience. That it does so with romance and not a little wit probably helped.

As the opening credits roll, writer-director Juan Jose Campanella shows us a one-time criminal investigator struggling to pen a novel about a crime that's haunted him for decades. In the mid-1970s, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) had doggedly pursued a case -- the brutal rape and murder of a bank employee's wife -- despite official efforts to discourage him. He'd become emotionally involved, and empathetic. But the nearer he'd gotten to solving the crime, the stranger and more labyrinthine it had become.

Determined to bring literary closure to a case he'd been unable to close legally, he returns to his old Supreme Court stomping grounds. His stride is halting now, his hair streaked with gray, but his eyes still sparkle when he greets Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a judge he worked with -- and carried a torch for -- some 25 years earlier.

When she hears that his novel will rehash the Morales case, though, her own eyes cloud. The original investigation had led both of them down dark legal alleyways that became more treacherous the further they ventured: In flashbacks, we learn of trumped-up charges, forced confessions, political interference and a killer still on the loose -- until Ben and a brilliant but alcoholic co-worker (comedian Ricardo Morales) track him one day to a soccer stadium.

The director sends his cameras hurtling after their suspect (a creepily feral Javier Godino) as he burrows deep into the bowels of the stadium -- catching up with him, losing him, leaping over banisters with him, even chasing him onto the field, where thousands of screaming fans boo as he interferes with a goal. It's a pretty visceral chase sequence, as tactile as it is frenetic. It's also, as Ben will explore years later in his novel, just a prelude to a decades-long nightmare that's far less public.

Leaping around in time, Campanella uses the aftermath of this one sadistic murder case to expose not just law-enforcement shortcomings but fault lines in Argentine society. Class distinctions interfere with everything from justice to romance; official pressure to forgive transgressions is countered by stubborn personal quests for justice.

Because the flashbacks take place in an era just before Argentina was brutalized by a military dictatorship -- a time of death squads, seared into the nation's memory -- the quest for justice is doubtless a given for Argentine audiences. And while American viewers don't start with the same reference point, Campanella, who's directed quite a few episodes of Law & Order: SVU, is just the guy to fill us in.

He's hampered somewhat by overheated source material and a final twist that's more than a trifle lurid. Still, there's no shortage of real social anguish for him to play with: official paranoia, government corruption, a political underworld that prizes criminality. The Secret in Their Eyes finds secrets everywhere -- even in what's driving Ben and Irene as they separately examine the decisions they made back in the 1970s. For both of them, as for their country, accurate remembrance of that period is crucial. Neither was an open book, but Ben has now written one, and Irene will insist on some edits.

No hay comentarios.: