Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes is a complex film noir, mixing the classic detective story with a story of unrequited love. There abounds tension and some humour too. These differences blend together seamlessly.

The story, set in Buenos Aires, moves back and forth between 1974 and 2000. In 2000, Benjamín Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is a retired justice agent, struggling to write a novel about a 25 year old murder case that chases him still. He visits his former boss, Irene--Soledad Villamil—now a judge and they are more than happy to see each other. She gives him an old typewriter – which has its own unique history -- and suggests he begin at the beginning.

Flashbacks begin. And they tie past to present to past. Sartre argues that by consciousness we can remake the past. The film through its use of flashbacks explores that.

The 1972 Esposito investigates the rape and murder of a beautiful young woman, quickly becoming obsessed not only with finding her killer but with absorbing the intense, undying love of her husband. He has sits in Buenos Aires’ railway stations, on the assumption that the killer, whom they both know of but has disappeared, will appear before him.

Esposito forms a corner of a legal triangle. He demurely flirts with his new boss, for whom he feels a love so pure it seems to consume him, which is why the obsessed husband intrigues him. Then there is his partner, Pablo who admits to being a drunk but also manages (while drunk!) to realize, in a thematically significant way, that a man on the run—the killer— can change everything about himself except his passion. It’s one of several speeches (another deals with the examined life) that, even in subtitled English translation, makes an indelible impression and remains unforgettable.

The Secret in Their Eyes relies on an old photograph to jump-start the investigation. Esposito sees someone looking askance at the murder victim in a group shot and never looks back. What’s more, we believe as strongly as he does; after all, if love at first sight can happen in this movie, why not guilt too?

The film’s setting places it at a main point in Argentina’s violent history. The death of President Juan Perón in July 1974, left it open for conflict between left- and right-wing extremists. That resulted in a 1976 coup and the subsequent Dirty War and the murder and disappearance of thousands of dissidents, which also forms a specific plot point in the movie.

The idea of the indelibility of one’s passion structures the movie, tying together thematically the crime drama as an investigation, Esposito’s later need to account for it and come to terms with the meanings behind it and its actual resolution, and his love for his old boss Irene reflected in the obsession of the murder victim’s husband, all set against the lightly woven in threads of Argentina’s then political chaos.

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