The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes is an Argentine film that was awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Although I liked this film very much, I don’t think it is a better film than A Prophet or The White Ribbon, both of which it beat out. I suspect it won because it tells a more conventional story than the other two.

The story, most of which is told through flashbacks, is set in the 1970’s. Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín) is a federal justice agent, who works with his alcoholic partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella). Their boss is Irene Menéndez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil). Benjamin and Pablo are sent to investigate the brutal rape and murder of a woman, Liliana Colotto. The chief suspect, Isidoro Gómez (Javier Godino) has disappeared. Most of the first half of the film is taken up with the efforts of Benjamin and Pablo to find Gómez. When they do, the latter confesses. However, after being in prison for only a year, he is pardoned by Argentina’s president, Isabel Peron. It turns out that in prison, Gómez spied on “subversives”, and he is now an armed agent of the government. A government official haughtily informs Benjamin and Irene that Gómez has done the state a great service, and the government doesn’t care about his “personal life”. Benjamin and Irene then begin to fear for their own lives, with Gómez loose on the street with government immunity.

The Secret in Their Eyes manages to build suspense without a lot of action-filled scenes. In contrast to most Hollywood thrillers, it doesn’t romanticize law enforcement. The police come across as barely competent. One of Benjamin’s fellow agents is blatantly corrupt. Most of the film takes place during the beginning of Argentina’s Dirty War. Throughout these scenes there are ominous hints about what is about to happen to the country. The film also touches upon how notions about class and gender affect people’s behavior in Argentina. At the beginning of the investigation, for example, an agent tries to frame two construction workers for the murder. In a later scene, Irene goads Gómez into confessing by insulting his manhood.

Although I mostly liked this film, there are a few weak spots. In one scene the film actually revives the hoary cliché of the woman running after the train that is carrying her lover. (Has anyone ever seen this happen in real life?) I remember back in 1980, the film Airplane! made fun of this sort of thing.

All quibbles aside, this film is highly recommended.

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