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The Secret in Their Eyes

A man sits at a desk writing scenes in the language of fiction. He composes three of them, which we see enacted, then disposes of each. They don’t express what he wants to say, but they are so different that we wonder, what kind of story could contain each of these moments at the same place? Over the next two hours The Secret in Their Eyes, this year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, traces out that story, and it isn’t until the film has ended that we understand how all the pieces fit together. The man is Benjamín Esposito (the excellent Argentine actor Ricardo Darín, whom you may recall from Son of the Bride, XXY, or Nine Queens), a retired court investigator. He wants to write a novel to allay his doubts about a case from 1974 in which a young woman was brutally raped and murdered, and the re-enactment of that investigation is the bulk of the movie. What more gradually becomes clear is that Esposito has other unfinished business: his love for a co-worker, Irene (Soledad Villamil) that went unfulfilled. Why? Not because of anything that happens, but because of the people that they are, the understanding of which comes to us in a largely unspoken way beneath the layer of the plot. (The title is self-referential to the film as much as descriptive of elements of the mystery.) When the movie appeared to be over, about 95 minutes in, I was prepared to write it off with some disappointment as an engrossing but overwrought mystery, complete with the kind of preposterous clues that I can’t imagine real-life killers ever drop. There’s also a confession scene that plays like a parody of Argentine machismo. But the film goes on after that to deepen its themes of memory, obsession, and loss for a cumulative effect that reminded me of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. A knowledge of the era—the end of the Peron regime and Argentina’s subsequent plunge into years of murderous repression—may broaden your understanding of the film but isn’t required. By any standards it’s a terrific film.

m. faust

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