Director: Juan José Campanella
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacheri & Juan José Campanella
Producers: Mariela Besuievski, Juan José Campanella & Carolina Urbieta
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino
Country: Argentina & Spain
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 129 min
The surprise winner of Best Foreign Film at the 2009 Oscars, The Secret of Their Eyes took a while to come to the UK and didn't get much of a theatrical release, but it's out now on DVD so I caught up with it to see what all the fuss was about.
The film begins with a retired legal counsellor in his fifties/sixties (Ricardo Darín) who has decided to spend his later years working on a novel about his past experiences, particularly an unresolved case involving a young woman who was raped and murdered. As the lawyer recontacts his superior (Soledad Villamil), an old flame, to get some more information, we start to find out more about the case through flashbacks and we also delve into the complex relationship between the two of them.
As you can see in the short synopsis, this isn't necessarily a new story. On paper it's the sort of thing you get in TV detective dramas all the time and it shared a few similarities with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. However, this is truly classy filmmaking that transcends it's genre roots. What's particularly strong is actually the relationship aspect. It's refreshing to see such a mature and subtle romance on screen instead of the usual pretty twenty-somethings flirting, spouting cornball lines, then jumping into bed together. The characters here are more world-weary and there's a fiery chemistry bubbling under their restrained facades. It actually feels like an important, if not the most important element of the film whereas a lot of thrillers throw in some romance as an afterthought to increase the film's demographic. Even in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a film that I liked quite a bit, I felt that the romance that blossomed between the two leads was forced and unnecessary and this film's handling of similar material was much more believable.
I felt that the thriller aspects of The Secret in Their Eyes disappointed a little though. The mystery is fairly predictable and although there are some nice touches here and there it doesn't really throw anything new or particularly exciting into the ring. That said, it is always engrossing despite it's length and subdued pace and there is one scene that is mind-blowing in it's execution. It beings with an aerial shot of a football stadium which moves in on the crowd, homing in on two of the protagonists. It lingers on them (without cutting) as the scene plays out, then a chase ensues taking the camera (still without cutting) inside the stadium, tracking the action through various rooms and even over the edge of a stairwell, all without a noticeable cut. It's a staggering piece of filmmaking that sits oddly in such a sedate and classically shot film, but I certainly won't complain about it's inclusion.
It's a finely crafted film that is intoxicating to watch. It may not be all that fresh or groundbreaking, but it shows Hollywood that thrillers can be made with real class and restraint rather than resorting to flashy set-pieces and sex symbol stars. Definitely worth tracking down for fans of adult thrillers (no not that kind) and mainstream-friendly world cinema.
The DVD is out now in the UK, released by Metrodome.
Review by David Brook