"How can you live a life full of nothing?"
From this existential question flows a film of lust, loyalty, revenge, justice, passion, redemption and love, so intricately woven that you wonder if a movie like this will ever come your way again. I found myself in its grip from beginning to end, and then some. The Argentine thriller won the Oscar this year for the best foreign movie, and having seen it on the first day of its release in San Jose, I now know it was the most deserving Oscar of them all. In "The Secret in Their Eyes," director and co-screenwriter Juan Jose Campanella has created a movie of layers upon subtle layers that cinephiles can savor again and again.
A retired prosecutor named Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is haunted by a crime committed a decade ago in the Buenos Aires of the '70s. A housewife was brutally raped and killed. The criminal was never caught and it ended Esposito's career. By writing about the crime, the prosecutor wants to take a final shot at bringing the killer to justice. He interviews the bereaving husband Ricardo (Pablo Rago) and is struck by the "secret" lurking in the eyes of a man caught in a family snapshot that includes the slain wife Liliana Coloto.
Esposito is assisted by his sidekick, a wise-cracking drunk whose insight into human nature (we may change with time but the one constant in our life is our passion) begins a chain of events that fuses menace and mystery with logic and imagination. Argentinians live and breathe soccer. The cinematography and the sheer audacity of the soccer scenes seamlessly integrated into the narrative is breathtaking. The dark days of Argentinian military regimes and their fascistic practices are suggested with an economy of words and scenes that make them all the more chilling.
Our Hamlet-like prosecutor is burdened in his investigation by his unrequited love for the current prosecutor and judge, Ms. Villamil (Irene Hastings). Their unspoken feelings for each other only add to the tension. And just when we think that the murder-mystery has been resolved comes the shattering climax, worthy of the best of Le Carre. There is redemption as well, when "I fear" turns into "I love you."
What is unfathomable is why the movie has been subjected to "limited release." In San Jose, this means that it is playing in only one small theatre. Then I realized why.
Hollywood honchos have figured out that if Americans see movies of the calibre of "The Secret in Their Eyes" in mainstream theatres, they will reject the mindless, asinine fare that the studios routinely inflict on them. Produced in Argentina, "Secret" dialogues are obviously in Spanish but the English subtitle helped me enjoy the movie as much as a Spanish-speaking person would. Besides, San Jose has a large Hispanic population, so tickets would have sold briskly even if it opened in multiple theatres.
The Hollywood-Industrial complex has to keep movies like "Secret" away from popular cinema complexes and mainstream movie-goers. Otherwise, they know that their cookie-cutter fares will take a huge hit. The dumbing down of America continues even with movies.
There is one way you can beat this vicious cycle. Go see "The Secret in Their Eyes" and spread the word through Facebook, Twitter and other social media. We owe at least this much to this brilliant film and what it can teach us about the art of making and enjoying movies. The message may even reach Hollywood.