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The Secret In Their Eyes

Director Juan José Campanella won the Foreign Film Oscar last year with The Secret In Their Eyes, and deservedly so.

Ricardo Darin (David Ginola meets Joe Mantegna) is an autumn-years ex-police officer who is whiling away his retirement on an elusive (and apparently roman a clef) novel. He heads back to his old headquarters and stirs latent passions: for an ex-colleague (Soledad Villamil) he allowed to slip through his fingers and for the case he has yet to reconcile – that of a raped and murdered young woman.

The case itself was solved (and the entrapment scene is a gloriously goading sequence of unspoken hand-tipping and manipulation) but the circumstances that followed torment Darin: the murderer was released early and brought into police ranks, a move made entirely out of dire spite by a former internal adversary. Darin was powerless to act and the injustice, coupled with a brief grief-addled empathy for the widower left behind, who ended up keeping a fruitless vigil in train terminals, waiting to chance upon the perpetrator, has caught up with him: too many fates are, from Darin’s perspective, still hanging. His late re-intervention ties them all together, if hardly entirely satisfactorily.

The performances are immense. Darin is iconic, a totem of urbane affability wrestling with demons, wearied but as yet unspoiled. Soledad Villamil is a lambent, intoxicating presence, perfectly matching Darin’s barely concealed sense of almost playful preposterousness at their and the world’s lot. Guillermo Francella, before this a TV comedy actor in Argentina, is quite brilliant as Darin’s doomed and debauched comrade.

There is one extended set-piece at a football match that deserves a mention and which can only be described as spectacular: a heart-thudding, free-roaming camera that glides over a raucous terrace throng before dropping amongst the voluble masses adjacent to our man and his drunken sidekick. A delightful visual step-over later and what appeared a start-stop missed opportunity (plot-wise) suddenly and urgently emerges as an unlikely triumph as the restless camera sleuths and lingers beside our missed miscreant, waiting for Darin to take the hint (which he doesn’t immediately, adding to the scene’s pulsating, innovative brilliance) and begin the resultant pounding chase through the crowds and in and out of the stadium innards before we head into floodlit glare and onto the pitch itself. Staggering.

The Secret In Their Eyes is a mature, elegant, unashamedly emotive film of great, soaring substance. It’s knowingly, pointedly cinematic – like Bertolluci, say – and it has a lustre of instant greatness about it. It’s stubbornly romantic and effortlessly gets away with a happy ending, which directly follows a macabre and exceedingly disturbing resolution to the crime strand of the tale. In a sense, the film kills you with a devastating headscratcher of a final movement to the irreconcilable element before nailing you with a delightful, resplendent final reel and the epitome of a bittersweet end. Oh and the film even makes great, repeated use of an office door, on top of everything else.*

*There were two copies of this film slotted inconspicuously underneath at least a billion something-or-other at the local DVD store. The box had upon it a large blue sticker, covering part of the film’s title, incidentally, which read: ‘SUBTITLES’. When I took it to the counter, I was given a second opportunity to heed this dire warning. ‘You do know that, er, this is a subtitled film?’ The young man wearing a ‘Blockbuster’ t-shirt stared at me with cold, hard foreboding. He clunked the disc into place and snapped the box shut with seeming regret: I was not to be saved.

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