Director: Juan José Campanella
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil
Runtime: 127 mins
The winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, The Secret in their Eyes feels very much like a classic genre film. These generic qualities are numerous, and they’re all quite distinct. This isn’t to say that the film jumps from one stylish pastiche to another, or has characters that think life is one long movie. The effect is often achieved by imagery alone. It’s a police procedural whose melancholy opening dimly shows two people divided by a parting train in the most typical of ways; it’s a noir and a romance whose central passion is marked by shyness and glances; and it’s a crime thriller where justice can be determined by incredible intuition as well as by pragmatism, be it hard work or politically convenient decision-making.
In Argentina at the end of the millennium, an ex-federal justice agent goes to meet the boss he hasn’t seen in years. During retirement, he’s begun writing a novel originating in an old case of his, the rape and murder of a young, female schoolteacher in 1974. The hero Benjamín Espósito is attracted to it not just because of mystery, but because his attitude towards life seems to be bound up in the events of the time.
The film is brilliantly shot, and the plot is consistently intriguing without being too mysterious. One criticism could be the inevitable obviousness with which it shows its literary origins. For many reasons, a story about the writing of a book simply isn’t as effective onscreen as it is on the page. So you could say that Based On A Book is the genre that stands out the most; but this wouldn’t be quite correct. The genres I mentioned before are bound up with the idealism of a few characters, especially concerning sometimes-overemphasised ideas of passion and justice. The hero, played brilliantly by Ricardo Darín, is a positively gallant detective, one determined to figure out the crime he’s given to solve. When, at a couple of points in the film, his hope is damaged by state-sponsored injustice, the act of writing feels like an attempt to restore this idealism. An unexpected ending (in an occasionally implausible film) then completely alters his perspective. It looks like he finishes the book, but we don’t know what he’s written.