Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Surprise Academy winner THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES opens, TM says: "Told you so."

Our honored Academy voters have done it again. Last year, bypas-
sing Waltz With Bashir, The Class, The Baader-Meinhof Complex and Revanche, they handed the Best-Foreign-Language-Film award to the utterly arthouse/
mainstream film (though, to my mind, a good one) Departures. This year, they've repeated themselves, skipping over the likes of The White Ribbon, Ajami, A Prophet and The Milk of Sorrow, allowing "Oscar" to alight on the Argentine romance/melodrama/thriller THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, co-written (with Eduardo Sacheri, from his novel) and directed by Juan José Campanella (shown below) -- which proves yet another excellent arthouse/mainstream movie.

TrustMovies is happy to say that, this past January, he predicted exactly this in his post on Departures (scroll to the end of that post, anyone of you who are interested), even though "Secret" was the only one of the five Academy-nominated films competing for Best Foreign Language award that he had not yet seen. Advance word about the quality of the film, as well as its content, made it sound like a shoo-in for the Academy's vote. There is a certain kind of movie that seems unstoppable, once nominated for BFLF. (Nowhere in Africa was one of these, and, had it been nominated, so would have been Gloomy Sunday a decade ago).  These are all very good foreign films, probably rather mainstream in their country of origin and so become what I call arthouse/mainstream over here. Further, while they may touch upon dark themes (death in Depatures, the workings of fascism on society in "Secret," the Holocaust in "Africa" and "Sunday"), they are not in themselves dark movies, though "Secret" comes much closer to dark than did Departures. (Its utter darkness, by the way, was the reason that Gomorrah never even made the shortlist of BFLF nominees.)

With the theatrical opening of The Secret in Their Eyes this week, we'll all have the opportunity to see it (I recommend you do) and weigh in.  The movie is lush but intelligent, full of emotion and event yet packed with buried history.  In it, a now-retired criminal court investigator begins a a novel he intends to write concerning a never-fully-resolved murder case that occurred 25 years ago.  Played by Ricardo Darin (above and below), an Argentine actor as charismatic and talented as were Mastroianni or Belmondo in their day, this character holds the film and its other characters together, as everything revolves around him and his preoccupations, then and now. These include love, honor, friendship -- and memory.

A murder of a beautiful young woman provides the jumping-off point for all of this, and though we barely see that act (all jump cuts and in-and-out memories, as the film progresses), its aftermath is grizzly and provocative enough to make her death remain the cen-
ter of our attention.  Yet the film is also a love story (two of them, in fact) -- the who, how and why of which we learn only as "Secret" unravels.  Memory and the necessity of remembering are vital to the movie, as is the idea of justice, both served and betrayed.

In Argentina between 1976 and 1983, it is estimated that up to 30,000 people (there are 9,000 verified and "named" cases) were murdered by the country's fascist police state.  This was the time of "the Disappeared," and though I believe that none of this is ever mentioned in the film -- which takes place in two time frames: 1974 and 2009 -- this terrible era of Argentine history hangs over the movie like an unspoken curse, tainting everything and everyone.

There is a scene (above) in an elevator that will not only tie your stomach in knots but, in retrospect, demonstrates all too clearly what happens when a country's judicial system is corrupted, allowing the stench to engulf the workplace and the home, from society's caretakers to those they are supposed to care for.  It is this rot that spreads outwards, contaminating every character in the film and is responsible for what should not happen but does, and for what should happen but does not.  Society under the beginnings of Fascism is brought to creepy life via this memorably convoluted scenario.

Other than Señor Darin, the cast assembled is full of talented unknowns, so far as the US audience is concerned.  All the players are first-rate, especially Soledad Villamil (above, left) as Darin's love interest, Guillermo Francella, as his alcohol-prone partner (below, right), Pablo Rago as the grieving husband and Javier Godino (shown two photos above, with the gun in that elevator) as the "perp."   You can enjoy The Secret in Their Eyes for its love story, its thriller aspects, its drama.  Watchful viewers, however, may also get a glimpse of how uneasy Argentine audiences must have been to see their recent history laid bare so subtly and artfully.  As fine as were the other Best Foreign Language Film nominees, there is no reason to feel that this year's award was mis-bestowed.

The Secret in Their Eyes, from Sony Pictures Classics, opens Friday, April 16, in New York City and Los Angeles, with a limited national rollout to follow.

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