The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Movie


The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
El secreto de sus ojos (original title)

In 1999, retired Argentinian federal justice agent Benjamín Espósito is writing a novel, using an old closed case as the source material. That case is the brutal rape and murder of Liliana Coloto. In addition to seeing the extreme grief of the victim's husband Ricardo Morales, Benjamín, his assistant Pablo Sandoval, and newly hired department chief Irene Menéndez-Hastings were personally affected by the case as Benjamín and Pablo tracked the killer, hence the reason why the unsatisfactory ending to the case has always bothered him. Despite the department already having two other suspects, Benjamín and Pablo ultimately were certain that a man named Isidoro Gómez is the real killer. Although he is aware that historical accuracy is not paramount for the novel, the process of revisiting the case is more an issue of closure for him. He tries to speak to the key players in the case, most specifically Irene, who still works in the justice department and who he has always been attracted to ...
Argentina
Spain
IMDb   8.2 /10
Metacritic   80 %
TheMovieDb    8.0 /10
RottenTomatoes  89 %
FilmAffinity   8.1 /10
Information
Release Date2009-08-13
Runtime2h 9mins
GenreDrama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Content RatingR (R)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #145 | Won 1 Oscar. Another 52 wins & 43 nominations.
CompanyTornasol Films, Haddock Films, 100 Bares
CountryArgentina, Spain
LanguageSpanish
Irene Menéndez Hastings
Benjamín Esposito
Liliana Coloto
Ricardo Morales
Isidoro Gómez
Juez Fortuna Lacalle
Báez - Inspector

The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes (Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos) is a 2009 Argentinian crime drama film directed, co-written, produced and edited by Juan José Campanella, based on the novel La pregunta de sus ojos (The Question in Their Eyes) by Eduardo Sacheri, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The film is a joint production of Argentine and Spanish companies.

Using a nonlinear narrative, the film depicts a judiciary employee and his boss, a law clerk, in 1974, played by Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil, as they investigate a rape and murder case, while also following the characters 25 years later reminiscing over the case and unearthing the buried romance between them.

The film received awards in both Hollywood and Spain, notably the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, making Argentina, with 1985's The Official Story, the first country in Latin America to win it twice. Three weeks before, it had received the Spanish equivalent with the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film. At the time of its release, it became the second highest-grossing film in Argentine history, surpassed only by 1975's Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf.

In 2016, The Secret in Their Eyes was ranked No. 91 by international critics for the BBC's 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.


Plot

In June 1974, judiciary agent Benjamin Espósito investigates the rape and murder of Liliana Colotto de Morales. Espósito promises her husband, Ricardo, he will find the killer and give him a life sentence. Espósito is helped by his alcoholic partner Pablo Sandóval and the new department chief Irene Menéndez-Hastings. Romano, Espósito's rival, accuses two immigrant workers of the murder, which angers Espósito upon discovering that both of them were tortured to obtain a confession.

Espósito finds a lead while looking at old photos of Liliana, which Ricardo gave him: many of them featured a man, identified as Isidoro Gómez, staring at her suspiciously. Espósito and Sandóval sneak into Gómez's mother's house in Chivilcoy. During the break-in, they find some letters from Gómez to his mother. Sandóval steals them and Espósito finds out after returning to Buenos Aires. Their "visit" only causes them trouble with their higher-ups, and they are unable to find any evidence in the letters. Gómez is still on the loose due to a careless phone call from Ricardo to Gómez's mother, in a desperate quest for his wife's killer. Ultimately, the case is closed.

In 1975, Espósito finds Ricardo in a train station in Retiro and discovers that he was trying to find Gómez in multiple stations. Espósito convinces Menéndez to reopen the investigation. Meanwhile, while getting drunk in a bar, Sandóval makes a discovery: an acquaintance of his identifies several names on the letters – seemingly without any connection – as footballers of Racing Football Club. After identifying him as a Racing fan, Espósito and Sandóval attend a game between Racing and Huracán, in hopes of finding Gómez.

While keeping an eye on the game's attendees in Huracán's stadium, Espósito and Sandóval locate Gómez among the crowd, but a sudden goal causes a hubbub and allows Gómez to flee. A chase ensues and Gómez is caught by the stadium's security guards. Espósito and Menéndez then grill him illegally, with Menéndez making Gómez confess after hurting his male pride. Gómez is tried and sentenced, but Romano bails him out one month later in order to get revenge on Espósito and hires him as a hitman for the right-wing faction of the Peronist Party. Espósito and Menéndez try to reverse it but are stopped by Romano's intervention. Espósito informs Morales that his wife's killer will never go to prison.

Weeks later, Sandóval gets in a bar fight, causing Espósito to take him to his flat and fetch his wife. They find the door pried open, his pictures flipped over and Sandóval shot dead in his room. Espósito soon concludes that Gómez/Romano sent assassins after him, but Sandóval impersonated him to protect his friend. Fearing for his life, Espósito goes into hiding for 10 years in Jujuy Province with Menéndez's cousins. Espósito returns to Buenos Aires in 1985 to find Gómez missing and Menéndez married with two children.

In 1999, Espósito tries to make sense out of the case and visits Ricardo, who moved in 1975 to an isolated cottage in a rural area of the Buenos Aires Province. Ricardo loses control when Espósito asks him how he coped with his wife's death and the unfair end of the investigation since Gómez was never seen again after becoming part of Isabel Perón’s security detail. Ricardo tells Espósito that he kidnapped and murdered Gómez years earlier, and Espósito leaves. Moments later, however, Espósito drives back to Ricardo’s house, where he finds Ricardo giving food to Gómez, whom Ricardo kept imprisoned for 25 years without talking to him. Gómez begs Espósito for human contact, but Ricardo tells Espósito he promised him "a life sentence".

Back in Buenos Aires, Espósito visits Sandóval's grave for the first time. He then goes to Irene's office, ready to confess his love to her, something she was always expecting from him. Smiling and expectant upon his visit, she tells him to close the door.


Cast

  • Ricardo Darín as Benjamín Espósito, a judiciary employee in charge of solving the rape and murder of Liliana Coloto
  • Soledad Villamil as Irene Menéndez Hastings, a judge and Espósito's superior, who helps him with his investigation
  • Pablo Rago as Ricardo Morales, Lliliana Coloto's grieving widower
  • Javier Godino as Isidoro Gómez
  • Guillermo Francella as Pablo Sandoval, Espósito's alcoholic friend and assistant
  • Mario Alarcón as Judge Fortuna
  • Mariano Argento as Romano
  • José Luis Gioia as Inspector Báez
  • Carla Quevedo as Liliana Coloto

Historical and political context

The setting of the film ties its characters to the political situation in Argentina in two different time periods: 1975 and 1999. The main events transpire in 1975, a year before the start of Argentina's last civil-military dictatorship (1976-1983); the final year of the presidency of Isabel Martínez de Perón saw great political turmoil, with both leftist violence and state-sponsored terrorist organization, especially at the hands of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (usually known as Triple A or AAA), a far-right death squad founded in 1973 and particularly active under Isabel Perón's rule (1974–1976). A military coup in 1976 triggered the so-called "Dirty War", which is foreshadowed in the character of Isidoro Gomez and his protection by the government due to his work helping that administration and its judicial system to find (and later kill) left-wing activists and militants or guerrilla members. The dictatorship's National Reorganization Process was a period of more than seven years (1976-1983) marred by widespread human rights violations. The state-sponsored terrorism of the military Junta created a climate of violence whose victims were in the thousands and included left-wing activists and militants, intellectuals and artists, trade unionists, High School and College/University students and journalists, as well as Marxists, Peronist guerrillas or alleged sympathizers of both.

It is estimated that some 10,000 of the disappeared were guerrillas of the Montoneros (MPM), the oldest guerrilla organization, which began to operate in 1970, and the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP). Although in the period there was leftist violence involved, mostly by Montoneros, most of the victims were unarmed non-combatants, and the guerrillas were exterminated by 1979, while the dictatorship carried out its crimes until the exit from power. After the defeat in the Falklands War, the Junta called for elections in 1983. The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons originally estimated that around 13,000 individuals were disappeared. Present estimates for the number of people who were killed or disappeared range from 9,089 to over 30,000; The military themselves reported killing 22,000 people in a 1978 communication to Chilean Intelligence, and the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which are the most important Human-Rights Organisations in Argentina, have always jointly maintained that the number of disappeared is unequivocally 30,000.

Since 1983 Argentina has maintained democracy as its ruling system: in that year Raúl Alfonsín was elected president and soon spoke out against the Argentinian junta's use of torture and death squads who spirited away "the disappeared" and killed them, hiding their bodies in unknown locations. In office, Alfonsín set about punishing police and troops who were responsible for unknown thousands of deaths in the so-called "dirty war". By 1985 the government had promoted the Trial of the Juntas, which prosecuted and condemned the men who were at the top of the military hierarchies during the country's last dictatorship, stopping short of prosecuting the other militars and civilians who were also responsible for the period's crimes.

The second period portrayed is 1999, during the last days of Carlos Menem's administration. During this time, the national laws known as the "Full stop" law ("Ley de Punto Final") and Due Obedience – sanctioned during the 1980s – were still in effect. These legal elements, popularly known as "the amnesty laws", had effectively blocked the investigation of thousands of cases of human rights abuses committed during the time of the country's last dictatorship. This period of Argentina's History is shown to stress the predicament in which the character of Ricardo Morales lived, since the impunity that criminals and human rights abusers like Gómez enjoyed at the time prevented Morales to bring the former to justice: the penal system would have convicted Morales for his past actions. At the same time, many former torturers and murderers of the dictatorship – who had previously been friends or partners of Gómez – were free at the time, and would have likely taken revenge on Morales. This fact further explains why Morales isolated and locked himself up with Gómez for so many years.

In 2003 the political climate changed, and during President Nestor Kirchner's administration, the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws, along with the executive pardons, were declared null and void, first by the Congress and then by the Supreme Court. These changes, promoted by the government in 2005, enabled the judicial power to prosecute and trial all the orchestrators of State-sponsored terrorism, also including politically motivated criminal acts committed in 1975. The crimes of that period are still being judged as of 2021.


Production

For this joint Argentine/Spanish production, Campanella returned from the United States, where he had directed episodes of the television series House and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, to film The Secret in Their Eyes. It marked his fourth collaboration with actor-friend Ricardo Darín, who had previously starred in all three of Campanella's Argentine-produced films in the lead role. Frequent collaborator Eduardo Blanco, however, is not featured in the movie; the part of Darín's character's friend is played instead by comedian Guillermo Francella.

In addition to presenting the appropriate ambiance for Argentina in the mid-1970s, it features a formidable technical achievement in creating a continuous five-minute-long shot (designed by visual effects supervisor Rodrigo S. Tomasso), that encompasses an entire stadium during a live football match. From a standard aerial overview we approach the stadium, dive in, cross the field between the players mid-match and find the protagonist in the crowd, then take a circular move around him and follow him as he shuffles through the stands until he finds the suspect, continuing with a feverish stop-and-go chase on foot through the murky rooms and corridors beneath the stands, finally ending under the lights in the middle of the pitch. The scene was filmed in the stadium of football club Huracán, and took three months of pre-production, three days of shooting and nine months of post-production. Two hundred extras took part in the shooting, and visual effects created a fully packed stadium with nearly fifty thousand fans.


Reception

The Secret in Their Eyes received very positive reviews from critics, not only in Argentina, but also abroad. It holds a 89% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 140 reviews, and an average rating of 7.72/10. The website's critical consensus is: "Unpredictable and rich with symbolism, this Argentine murder mystery lives up to its Oscar with an engrossing plot, Juan Jose Campanella's assured direction, and mesmerizing performances from its cast." On the website Metacritic it holds a score of 80 out of 100, based on 36 critical reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".


Remake

In 2015, American filmmaker Billy Ray wrote and directed a remake of The Secret in Their Eyes, under the same title. The remake starred Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, and Alfred Molina. The film was released by STXfilms on 20 November 2015. It received mixed reception from critics, who praised its performances but compared it unfavorably to the original.