For a change, I have seen a film that compelled me to write in praise. “The Secret in their Eyes” is a rare film that met and then exceeded my expectations. Smart stories that are well-developed and boast strong, well-developed characters interest me the most. I am convinced that, when a story shows that a filmmaker clearly has meager, if any, passion for the film he or she has made, why should I or anyone else pay attention to it?
“Secret” provides an Argentinean retired court investigator, Benjamin Esposito, portrayed by Ricardo Darín, decides to write a novel about a case that, while resolved long ago, has weighed on him for many, many years. He does this, in part, to exorcise the toxicity from it and absolve himself of whatever culpability he had felt he had.
When I read a compelling description by a Minneapolis “Star Tribune” film critic, Colin Covert, “Argentine Oscar winner masterfully merges drama, romance, crime and suspense” piqued my curiosity. Another one, from “The New York Times,” struck me as the most potent though: is it “both a detective story and a tale of unrequited love.” The last time I saw a film that combined those to narratives – and well – illudes me.
Perhaps it’s “strange” or just rare to yearn for highly-intelligent and complex in our society; oh well.
The director, Juan José Campanella, is the kind of filmmaker where you tell yourself to look for his other works to be sure that you haven’t missed a gem. But much of his latest work has been confined to the small screen, TV; he has directed many episodes of some very popular and potent shows: “House, MD” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
In 2004, he made “Luna de Avellaneda,” which translates as “Moon of Avellaneda.” IMDB describes like this: “The story of a social and sports club in a Buenos Aires neighborhood and of those who try to save it from being closed.”
What else can he do in cinéma?
The extraordinary way he makes alternatingly unnerving and beguiling plots, about a gruesome muder and a barely uttered romance, respectively, conspire seemlessly is an achievement. Mr. Campanella’s talent stands out for knowing how to build a story that shows a plot of perverted justice, while interlacing it with one about two established professionals who dance around the osified realities of an irreconcilable love. This is special, maybe unique. The way that it was executed could have collapsed or imploded in a less talented film artist’s grip.
The latticework organization of the narrative is intricate, but comprehensible – compelling. We quickly find strong, solid reasons to care for or take specific character’s sides. That the object of his desire is his boss, Judge Irene Menéndez Hastings, played by Soledad Villamil, makes the story even better, more dangerous.
Still there are problems: at the beginning of the last act, which, for me was not obvious, the film began to feel long. Secondly, after having witnessed evocative camera work in the story’s opening, I wish that would have continued, and consistently, throughout. Third, I could have gone without the bravura shot in the stadium, which has already been debated in other reviews. It distracted me, while doing too little to propel the story. (Also I admit that, as some critics have probably written, maybe a superior film would leave me to find troubling flaws in at least the main characters.)
This is a tale that, from one moment to the next, makes you wince, laugh, or drop your jaw at its twists; this, sometimes, in the span of mere minutes. What deserves praise is that it works!
Without betraying a spoiler, “you told me it was for ‘life'” is the line that sticks with me.