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The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
An unsolved crime. A love story. An unwritten ending.
Filmmaker(s): Juan José Campanella

Hoping to put to rest years of unease concerning a past case, retired criminal investigator Benjamín begins writing a novel based on the unsolved mystery of a newlywed’s rape and murder. With the help of a former colleague, judge Irene, he attempts to make sense of the past.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

You Eyes, Your Love, Your Passion

This is a truly lovely film that has potential to change lives. I will consider it for my ‘list of fours,‘ when I report it.

You may simply fall into the rather soft world it builds, one in which love can be redeemed as a matter of earnest justice. It is a simple coloring of the by now familiar Spanish-language model of anti-noir. In noir, the on screen characters are buffeted by events and laws in a world designed by the act of us watching. In the Spanish-language model, the on-screen characters imagine a world that bobs and weaves around the world we want to impose on the movie.

Sometimes this is called ‘magical realism,‘ and I suppose that concept makes sense in novels where everything is internal. Here in cinema we see, we live in worlds.

As with the best of these films, there is careful structuring. Underlying all this — I’ll call it mirroring here — is the effort of a man to change reality. Plot-wise, he needs to recapture a lost love with a colleague. This is mirrored in his need to revisit justice for a violent murder that terminated the most passionate love he knows. He follows his own passion, amidst a speech by his assistant about the inevitability of passion that is mirrored in how the murderer is captured.

I’ll take a moment away from mirroring to remark that this capture scene is in a packed soccer stadium. It is in a continuous take that seems physically impossible and has the edgiest cinematic tension I know.

This is literally two movies spliced together. To begin, we know it as a police procedural, with a love story under. It morphs about halfway into the dual: a love story with a detective story under, and the detective story now is of a different kind.

That ‘different kind‘ has to do with the mirroring of time. The early mystery is who committed the murder and how to catch him. The later mystery about what happened after the in-story watchers let him free. He folds these together by writing the past while we watch him struggle with the future. He literally writes half of the film and his creation may well be fiction. We see him struggling in the first scenes. When his love reads the novel she asks if that is how it was because she wants to know the world she will inhabit. She is pleased, saying that things will be complicated.

Even this is mirrored. Where our detective creates a world by narrating it, the bad guy ends up in a limbo where he gets no story, literally.

Posted in 2010

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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