Ian Berke, realtor and real estate in San Francisco
Ian's Listings
SF listings
About SF
About Ian
Ian's List
Film Reviews
Stone Books
Legal & Privacy

tel 415.921.7300
cell 415.860.2777

DRE #444020

Film Review

The Secret in Their Eyes

In the 1970's, many Central and South American countries had military coups, military rule, then widespread arrests, kidnappings, torture, and killings of suspected left wing activists.  Journalists, priests, teachers, mothers, and even college students, were kidnapped and killed. Everyone was intimidated, few were safe, unless very well connected. In Argentina alone, the best estimates are that 20 to 30,000 people simply disappeared, with many more tortured. Even then it was called the "Dirty War", and only in the past 20 years have some of these countries begun to come to grips with the horrible crimes that were done to their own citizens under the guise of fighting communism. A cursory reading of the recent history of these countries is frightening, even though all are now relatively functioning democracies.  It was a nightmare, and discovery of mass graves and exhumations of bodies still continues. In Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo continued to march until 2006 to demand that the government be more aggressive in investigating the disappearance of their children. Their ghosts are everywhere, and the scars will take generations to heal.

With that as background, Argentine director/writer Juan Jose Campanella, best known to US audiences for his TV series, such as Law and Order and 30 Rock, has written and directed a riveting crime drama. Benjamin Esposito is a young investigator in Buenos Aires in 1974, just after the death of Juan Peron and the beginning of the "Dirty War". He and his often drunk friend, Pablo, work in a judge's office, handling the usual run of cases, from burglaries to murder. They are joined by a new employee, Irene, a bright, beautiful Penelope Cruz looking woman, a recent U.S. law school graduate. Benjamin falls hard for her, but she is from a wealthy family, out of his class, and seems aloof. He mostly conceals his feelings, but Pablo, although usually drunk by mid day, knows immediately what is going on in Ben's mind. One day Ben goes to a murder scene, and although no stranger to gruesome crimes, is stunned. A beautiful young woman has been raped, badly beaten, and killed. He becomes obsessed with solving the crime, especially after meeting the husband, Morales, who is devastated. There seem to be no clues, but Morales shows Ben some photographs of his murdered wife with her school group, and Ben notices one young man looking intently at her. They discover his identity and begin to search for him for questioning. This proves much more difficult than they imagined, for he seems to have vanished. But Pablo, even drunk, has more good ideas than most do sober, and ultimately proves to be as good a friend as is possible.

The Secret in Their Eyes opens with a series of scenes, taken from a novel that a now much older and retired Ben, is trying to write about the murder. It opens with a classic scene of a handsome couple at a train station, he leaving her, and she running down the platform alongside the train with their hands touching, but separated by the window glass. Then the scene ends, and we see Ben crumpling up the a page of his draft, and throwing it away. Another scene follows, with the same result. And soon Ben, after 25 years, goes to see Irene, now a judge, and married. She is happy to see him, they begin to talk, and when he tells her what he is writing, she is shocked. For her, it is like revisiting a bad dream. And then the film goes back 25 years to the beginning, from when Irene was first hired. The story is compelling, without a slack moment, even though there are frequent flashbacks. The camera work is impossibly fine, from emotion laden close ups to an amazing shot of a soccer stadium from above, with the camera then swooping down to the field, then into the huge crowd of spectators, finally setting on Ben and Pablo as they search for their suspect. There is so much great cinematography in this film that scarcely a scene isn't gorgeous. And the acting!! It simply doesn't get better. Not just the principal actors, but everyone. There are so many memorable scenes, including one where Irene is taunting and sexually humiliating their suspect that is amazing, and bursting with energy. Through most of the film there is a ominous tension, often amplified by the piano arpeggios. Campanella shows us that there are many secrets in many eyes. He has given us a powerful, haunting masterpiece, easily the best of the several outstanding mystery films this year (Ghost Writer, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, & Mother). In a rare intelligent decision, The Secret in Their Eyes won the best foreign film award at the Academy this year. Be sure to see this on the big screen, at the Embarcadero.

Return to the List of Film Reviews

Home | Ian's Listings | SF listings | Rentals | Architecture | About SF | About Ian |
Ian's List | Legal & Privacy | ian@ianberke.com | © 2009- ianberke.com