Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Academy Award Winner: The Secret in Their Eyes

They dance the tango in Argentina, not the samba. A country known for its elegant melancholy, it seems that profound sadness even permeates Argentinean movie mysteries. Such is definitely the case with Juan José Campanella’s romantic noir The Secret in Their Eyes (trailer here), the recent Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, which opens in New York this Friday.

Benjamin Espósito’s life is defined by unfinished business. A retired investigator for the Buenos Aires court, he remains deeply troubled by the injustice of a twenty-five year old murder case while still carrying a torch for his former boss. In an attempt to exorcise his demons, Espósito started writing a novel transparently based on that fateful investigation. As he shares his rough draft with his great love, Irene Menendez Hastings, now a married judge, the audience witnesses the tragic affair unfold in flashbacks.

Understandably disturbed by the savage murder of a young wife and moved by the pure grief of her distraught husband, Espósito ruffles many feathers pursuing his investigation. When suspicion falls on a squirrely drifter from the victim’s home village, Espósito appears to have the case wrapped up, thanks in large measure to the support of Hastings and his alcoholic sidekick, Sandoval. However, shadowy political forces will intervene, subverting justice and putting Espósito and his almost lover in serious jeopardy.

Though Secret has the structure and trappings of a crime drama, it is really a romantic melodrama at heart. Campanella evokes the perfect atmosphere of nostalgic reverie and deftly handles the frequent temporal flashbacks. Yet, it is Ricardo Darin’s soulful performance as Espósito that truly distinguishes the film. Quietly conveying a lifetime of yearning and regret, he looks like a broken heart personified.

While Secret does not rise to the same level of artistry nor pack an equivalent emotional punch as some of the other foreign language films the Academy had to choose from, it is easy to see how the film won over Oscar voters. Not only is it unabashedly romantic, it also offers a veneer of politically correct relevancy through its sinister depiction of Argentina's rightwing security forces.

Still, there is something very appealing about Secret's old fashioned vibe. Gracefully morose, it effectively marries romance and mystery in a characteristically Argentinean package. A very good movie (though not the best foreign film of the year), Secret opens in New York this Friday (4/16) at the Angelika Film Center.