Synopsis: Recently retired criminal court investigator Benjamin (Ricardo Darin), decides to write a novel based on a twenty-five year old unresolved rape and murder case, which still haunts him. Sharing his plans with Irene (Soledad Villamil), the beautiful judge and former colleague he has secretly been in love with for years, Benjamin’s initial involvement with the case is shown through flashbacks, as he sets out to identify the murderer. But Benjamin’s search for the truth will put him at the center of a judicial nightmare, as the mystery of the heinous crime continues to unfold in the present, testing the limits of a man seeking justice and personal fulfillment at last.
eyelights: the performances. the story. the twists. the moral quandary it presents. its satisfying ending.
eyesores: the slow pace.
‘El secreto de sus ojos’ is really two stories: 1) it’s a decades-spanning murder-mystery, 2) it’s a love story. Both are quite excellent.
It’s set in Argentina in 2000 but it frequently flashes back to the mid-’70s, during the Dirty War, when the crime was first committed and the ensuing investigations took place. Our protagonist, Benjamin, a former Federal agent, is writing a book about the events. But he has hit a roadblock, so he decides to consult his former colleague, Irene, with whom he worked on the case.
Irene is now a judge, long married and with children, but the connection between them has not waned. As she reviews his draft, to provide him with insight into his manuscript, she relives some of the moments that they had together. Despite themselves, the feelings that they had both buried in the past resurface.
Meanwhile, the past also brings up other unresolved business: the infamous crime that was never solved. As they relive their past, the case unfolds before our eyes: That of a spouse who was raped and murdered, leaving her grieving husband out for revenge; indefatigable, Morales would stalk railway stations in the hope of finding the one man he believed to be guilty.
The film follows the investigation and we get to see how corrupt Argentina was at the time; justice didn’t always prevail, even when the good guys could pull some strings. What we find is a system that’s completely broken, kept together at the whim of a few powerful individuals – who are often more often than not part of the problem, considering their own personal benefit above all else.
To relate more about ‘El secreto de sus ojos’ would be to ruin a masterfully woven story that has its shares of twists – including some that would naturally foster discussion about ethics in relation to justice. Right after we were done watching the picture, I couldn’t help but ask my gf what she would have done in similar circumstances, when all else fails and you don’t know what else to do.
It made for an interesting, if grim, exchange. But ethical dilemmas are some of the best dialogues one could hope for, and this one delivers. I sure wish that I could discuss the questions at length without ruining the picture. If only. Heck, the last few minutes of the film alone were potent enough to keep me wondering to this day what I would be capable of in such a situation, and where I would draw the line.
Unfortunately, the film left me flat for most of its duration; it was intellectually satisfying, but I remained emotionally levelled . Despite a stellar cast, a terrific script and pitch-perfect direction, I couldn’t help but feel removed from the experience. Perhaps it was just my mood: everyone else I know who’s seen it and all reviews that I’ve perused have very positive feelings about ‘El secreto de sus ojos’. I seem to be the only one who thought it was excellent, but not exceptional.
So I would urge you to watch this motion picture. Give it a chance. At the very least it will make for a terrific two hours of cinema: it is, by any measure, a well-made film (hence the rating). And just because its gaze doesn’t move you, doesn’t mean that its secrets aren’t worth revealing. Having said that, based on everyone else’s reactions to it, the odds are fairly good that you will really enjoy it, maybe even be floored by it.
And it will no doubt make you reflect upon your own values, make you ask yourself similar ethical questions. Honestly, what would you do in their shoes?
Date of viewing: May 25, 2013