The Secret in Their Eyes (Campanella, 2009)
I walked into The Secret in Their Eyes with a number of reservations. I knew little about the film, but apparently it's a man's recollection, and eventual compilation into a novel, of a murder case that his law firm handled years back. Esposito is haunted by memories of this time in his life, seemingly without explanation, but he knows he has a story to tell and these recurring dreams only further compel him to write. Along the way we learn about lost love, the strength of friendship, and the power of memory in an individual's life. The Argentine film won 2009's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, besting Michael Haneke's brilliant The White Ribbon and the sleek French prison drama Un Prophete. I love the former and consider the latter to be one of this year's most enjoyable films, so saying this film would need to do a ton of things right in order to convince me that it deserved the victory over the two big name films. But I am getting ahead of myself, I suppose, as the film needs to first and foremost be examined by its own merit and then look at in a broader context. So let's get on with the reflection.
The Secret in Their Eyes is a perfect film. Well, not perfect in a traditional sense, but certainly at a technical level the film is in the upper echelon of movie making. Each and every angle, each cut, every frame. They are all so well timed, so fully realized, so exact and calculated, so beautiful. The film kind of stumbles a bit in the pacing, but that problem is more found in the script rather than in the way the camera is used or how the film is edited together. I suppose the score could have been a bit less imposing, but even that aspect is used fairly well without ever being too distracting. Actually, much like the film itself, the movie never knocks you over on a technical level with sweeping shots of majesty, but taken as a whole it washes over you and prides itself on consistency and precision, producing a wonderful blend that adds to the tension and helps establish more of an investment in the characters on screen.
Despite the script dragging on a bit, The Secret in Their Eyes does a spectacular job of combining comedy with drama, a task that many films have failed at in the past. What this film does is not keep the two worlds separated, in its attempt to capture the reality of life, a trait that is crucial to the overall impact of the film's themes, it lets these two worlds intermingle naturally. The comedy plays off the drama, the jokes don't always land, the characters don't just talk, they actually speak. While the film does tend to stray into the realm of unbelievability with one character in particular, his larger role in the film, as explained by the movie's protagonist, makes these earlier lapses much easier to forgive and adds a layer to this supporting character. The movie actually employs this device a number of times, adding minor details to develop smaller characters slowly in order to make them more complete. But where the script truly succeeds, aside from the thematic material that I will get to shortly, is in the framing device used. As the film plays out it becomes more and more clear that the film is using a framing device within a framing device. The novel frames the murder, the story frames the exploration of Esposito's life, Esposito's life serves as a microcosm for humanity on a grand scale. But how, you may ask. He's just a damn lawman. I'm a rebel!
Well, so is Esposito. He doesn't have time for regulations, these rules, he needs to know the truth behind this murder. And in this examination of obsession and memory the film hits a stride that
As I walked out of the film I still was not sure if this was the best foreign language film from the previous year, but I found myself considering the way life is lived, by myself and the world around me. I am obsessed, obsessed with so many different aspects, and these obsessions, whether great or small, do govern my life. Or perhaps not, perhaps obsessed is not the correct word. Interested works better most of the time, I suppose, but what this film does is examine the point where interest becomes obsession, and what we as people lose when we obsess. But the film never completely paints this quality as negative either; instead we see self fulfillment, therapy, human connection, and justice achieved, partially, through this obsession.
At least until the end of the film when the movie becomes a bit generic, and slightly plodding, as it springs twists, mostly masterfully handled, on the viewer in order to reach a more upbeat ending than I would have expected. But in this ending time is lost, life has gone on, and obsession yields consequence alongside the self fulfillment. For the most part The Secret in Their Eyes is a beautiful and enjoyable film. It blends comedy wonderfully into the drama and is told in a remarkably interesting manner that allows the larger ideas on display to be engaged with by the audience. Is this the best foreign language film of 2009? I would doubt it, and I doubt I will ever truly know, but this film is fantastic.
Oh yes, and as a disclaimer, scores are finished. I'm not using them any more, nor am I using grades. I'll let the words do the talking in order to better focus my thoughts. So yeah, that's that, no more of this stuff. I'll probably keep them, somewhere, for my personal records and year end lists (I should make a 2009 one of these), but otherwise they are gone.
Additionally, I find joy in this title as the connection is not as direct as lyrics I have used to title a few of the more previous entries, so if you get the connection you kick ass, I suppose.
Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.
Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at twitter.com/FLYmeatwad.