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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Film - The Secret in Their Eyes - directed by Juan Jose Campanella

Star rating – 9/10

As readers of this blog will know, I confidently and correctly predicted that The Hurt Locker would win the best picture Oscar last year. But I had not had the chance to see this Argentinean film noir, which has only now been released in the UK, to be able to tell whether or not it justified its best foreign picture award over the two front runners The White Ribbon (definitely as I wasn’t impressed by that one at all), or A Prophet (a harder call for me as I thought Jacques Audiard's prison drama was brilliant).

But after being dazzled, thrilled, and entertained by its clever mix of crime puzzle and romance, which span across three decades, and take in flashbacks to the political backdrop of 1970s Argentina where people routinely ‘disappeared’ if the ruling military wanted them too, I admit I am a convert. The film stars Ricardo Darín as retired court prosecutor Benjamin Esposito, who is bored and dissatisfied with the way his life has ended up, and hopes to distract himself by writing a novel based on a murder case he was involved in some 25 years previously, and which has haunted him ever since.

The case in question was the brutal rape and murder of a young woman married to a quiet bank clerk, whose tragic loss dominates his life as he proves to be incapable of truly moving on afterwards. Esposito takes his draft story to show to his old boss and senior prosecutor, who also happens to be a beautiful woman with whom he has been in love ever since he worked with her all those years before. The on screen chemistry between Darín and Irene Menéndez Hastings, played by Soledad Villamil, is entirely convincing and very moving. But the strong emotions between the pair are beautifully understated, as indeed are the other bonds of passion, including the lost love that the young widow, played by Pablo Rago, has for his murdered wife; and also the fierce friendship between Esposito and his ineffective colleague Sandoval, played by Guillermo Francella. Sandoval has to be pulled out of drunken bar room brawls by Esposito, and put up on his sofa when his wife won’t take him in.

Soledad Villamil is gutsy and determined in her interrogation of a murder suspect, knowing exactly how to find his Achilles heel. This follows on from maybe the most impressive scenes in the film, whereby the suspect is chased down from the crowd in a packed football stadium. Esposito ages wonderfully for the modern day scenes, but I must say that the youthful beauty of Villamil after 25 years is stretching credulity a tad. But this is only a small niggle. This film is smart, beautiful, with clever twists, and the director shows great skill in melding the murky past with the present day Argentina. It is certainly, for my money, a class above The White Ribbon, and at least on a par with A Prophet, if not a nose ahead. Good call again Oscars.

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