Movie Review: The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

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It doesn't matter how many times you change jobs, lovers, religions, clothes and houses since the one thing that stays with you that's just as adhesive, unmistakable, exclusive and singular as your fingerprint is your passion. Discovering the passion of another is like being given a key to their soul, understanding what pushes them forward in life even if something in their eyes seems to hearken back to the past.

And it's precisely the secret in the eyes of a photographed man that begins to obsess Argentinean criminal prosecutor Benjamin Esposito (a flawless Ricardo Darin) as he embarks on a twenty-five year quest for justice in a brutal rape and murder case that still haunts him in his retirement.

While some men write their memoirs, Darin's Esposito decides to write about the case instead. After fifty false starts fail to get him more than five lines into the opening page, Benjamin visits his old workplace. He decides to discuss the case with his former superior, Irene, realizing only then that they'd never really discussed it together back when it was pending since she was a new colleague at the prosecutor's office and he spent most of his time trying not to freeze up whenever the lovely woman walked into a room.

And by putting everything on paper including the thoughts, feelings, secrets and players behind-the-scenes, the audience realizes that perhaps Benjamn will finally gain closure regarding both what happened back in 1974 and what his own future will hold. Namely, the events of the Morales mystery coincided with the first pings of a generational unrequited love story in which he fell hard and fast for the then soon-to-be-married Irene (Soledad Villamil).

A story of what if, the solace and sadness of memory, coming to terms with truth, and above all love, Son of the Bride director Juan Jose Campanella's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film is one of the strongest, most peculiar, and intellectually satisfying works I've seen thus far in 2010.

Like another favorite in the form of Ghost Writer, which also centered on the burden of truth, passion, and putting the past on paper, it's rooted in a sophisticated classical style in its filmmaking technique and storytelling approach including overlapping plots and characters whose plights serve as echoes and more.

Yet unlike Writer, Campanella does a lot more in terms of playing with the camera to jolt us right to attention, putting us directly into the subjective shoes of our lead actor while also pulling away simultaneously frequently to illustrate that he is merely one man in a sea of others all undergoing their own journeys of passion.

Arguably Darin's strongest performance in years following acclaimed turns in The Education of Fairies, Son of the Bride and Nine Queens (which was remade in the states as Criminal), Secret's unusually existential, Kafkaesque film's narrative web unravels methodically and precisely.

Intriguingly it changes tone often and weaves buddy comedy courtesy of Darin's best friend -- the often drunk but brilliant employee (Guillermo Francella) -- into the mix along with romance via both Esposito and the Morales case as the torch carried by the surviving husband is a damn near Shakespearean take on Zodiac.

Beautifully executed, intellectually satisfying and filled with enough surprises to fuel a long conversation after the movie's credits roll, Campanella's Academy Award winning work which will no doubt satisfy the same audience who was taken in by another foreign winner The Lives of Others a few years earlier, is yet another reminder of why cinema remains such an unwavering passion for this reviewer.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I attended a press screening of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.