The Secret in Their Eyes (review)

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This year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film is a seductive film noir, a lonely love story, a cautionary tale about taking a quest for justice too far, and more, especially a nightmare about a repressive period in Argentina’s tumultuous recent history that I’m sure went mostly over my head, not having lived through anything like the postdictatorship mess of that nation in the 1970s. Circa 2000, Benjamín (Ricardo Darín) is a court prosecutor about to retire and spend his time writing a novel about the unsolved 25-year-old rape-murder case that still haunts him, the story of which unravels for us as writer-director Juan José Campanella flashes back to the mid 70s… when we also learn about the thwarted romance between Benjamín and the judge he worked with, Irene (Soledad Villamil), and how it became the uncomfortable friendship they have in the present. At first, the film felt to me like an episode of Law and Order episode set in Buenos Aires — a really great episode, but still TV-small in its ambitions. (Campanella, in fact, has directed many episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and a few of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.) But slowly the emotional grandeur and tragedy of what it’s aiming at become plainer. These ambitions do not go unfulfilled. Based on a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, this is both thrilling — the search sequence at a stadium mobbed with people is like something out of a lost Brian DePalma or Martin Scorsese film — and powerfully unexpected, finding regret and grief in the unlikeliest of places.

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