Told in flashback, the romantic crime thriller The Secret in Their Eyes is winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín, Nine Queens) has spent his entire working life as a criminal court employee. In 1999, recently retired and with time on his hands, he decides to write a novel. Drawing on his own past life as a civil servant, he recounts a true, moving and tragic story in which he was very directly involved: in 1974, his court was assigned an investigation into the rape and murder of a beautiful young woman. Moved by the grief of the husband, only married a short time, Espósito tries to help him find the culprit, despite having to contend with the apathy, ineptitude and even hostility of the police and legal system. For assistance he turns to Pablo (Guillermo Francella), a close friend and underling at his office who seeks release from his routine by drinking himself unconscious, and his boss, the beautiful upper class lawyer Irene (Soledad Villamil), with whom Espósito is secretly in love. Espósito’s investigation spanning decades takes him deep into the world of Argentina in 1974—a perfect backdrop for the violence, hate, revenge and death—no longer as an observer, but an unwilling central character.
The Secret In Their Eyes by writer/director Juan José Campanella
An old man eating alone. It was that image that haunted me and finally took me back to the novel. Not the crime itself. Or the suspense. Or the genre. The Old Man eating alone. How does someone end up all alone in life? Does that Old Man wonder how he ended up eating alone in a bar with no one by his side? One can deny it, forget about it, cover it up for a time, but the past always comes back. Perhaps during the second act of his life, the Old Man managed to ignore what he had done during the first act, but if he wants to make a successful transition into the third act, he will have to deal with his unfinished business.
I don’t see this as “film noir.” The “meat,” the main dish, the driving forces behind this movie are an undeclared love that has lasted for years, frustration, and the emptiness felt by the main characters. The genre is the dish the meat is served on.
Memory fascinates me. The way decisions we made twenty or thirty years ago can affect us today. This could also apply to a nation’s memories. As we now recover our memory of the 1970s as a country, we know that the horror began to take shape before the military dictatorship. The story takes place in that Argentina as the very air thickened, creeping up on and enveloping even the key players.
My aim was to tell this story as a mixture: of small beings wandering through a sea of people, among huge structures, lost in the crowd — and their eyes. The story of that man walking by a hundred meters away at the train station, with five hundred bodies between us and him. What could we learn about him if suddenly, with no cuts, we could see a close up of his eyes? What secrets would they have to tell?
Secrets about a story like this one perhaps: a story about a murder, true, but above all a story about love. A story about love in its purest form. A love that ended when it was only in the bud, with no time even to fade and die. How could a love like that be lived? What effect would it have on the people involved? What acts of madness could a pair of eyes commit when love is taken away from them?