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Having retired from his career as a court official in Argentina, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) sets about writing a novel - but is unable to get going, haunted by a rape and murder case of Liliana Coloto (Carla Quevedo) with which he was deeply involved 25 years earlier in 1985. Smitten at the time by the newly arrived, sophisticated and attractive judge Irene Menendez Hastigs (Soledad Villamil) for whom he works, Benjamin returns to her for advice on the book. She encourages him to start with what he best remembers, but memories are a dangerous and uncertain place. As he writes, he revisits the past, in which the case affected him deeply, for a variety of dramatic - and political - reasons. His memory of the victim haunts him, as does his memories of her adoring husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), who had hoped the killer would get a life sentence. His friend and colleague Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), who sought refuge in drink, is another memorable character in his memoir, as is the killer, Isodor Gomez (Javier Godino).

Review by Louise Keller:
An intriguing thriller in which obsession about a crime from the past prompts the unravelling of a jumble of the past, present and future. Passion is the key to everything, as Ricardo Darín's retired Benjamín Esposito discovers, when he revisits a case that has haunted him for 25 years, which leads him into unexpected territory. Old wounds, old loves, mysteries of the heart and the fear of living a life of nothing all play a part in Juan José Campanella's beguiling adaptation of Eduardo Sacheri's novel whose intrigue accelerates into a full-blown tempest of fervour. If you need more temptation, just know that this is the film that won the Foreign Language Oscar in 2010.

It is a complex film whose plot changes direction when you least expect it. Darin's Esposito is intent on looking back into the past as he begins to write a novel based on a violent case of rape and murder. But where to begin? Is it at a train station; is it the first day he meets Soledad Villamil's stunning judge Irene Menéndez Hastings; is it at the crime scene; or is it when eyes speak in a photograph? Like Esposito, we become fascinated by the woman at the centre of the violent crime. Get to know her better, her grieving husband Morales (Pablo Rago) says, as he shows Esposito photograph albums that offer an insight not only into her life but those around her.

This is far from a traditional murder mystery. The richness of the characterisations and depiction of the essence of who all the characters are, is one of the film's greatest strengths. Performances are utterly convincing: Darin memorable as Esposito; Villamil perfect as Irene; Guillermo Francella accessible as Esposito's drunk friend Sandoval and Javier Godino unforgettable as the possible killer Isidoro Gómez. Approach the film with an open mind and heart and you will be rewarded.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A crime thriller, a profound love story and a complex exploration of guilt and revenge, this Oscar winning (Best Foreign Language Film, 2010) work is superbly crafted to unfold with storytelling prowess and characters that remain with us as clearly as if we had met them. Ricardo Darin (memorable from Nine Queens) delivers a wonderful, melancholy but engaging Benjamin Esposito, a lowly court clerk who is drawn into a savage rape and murder case which is callously dismissed by the system - until he starts probing. This sounds like a trite device, but here it is handled with finesse and sincerity.

At the same time, Benjamin falls helplessly and hopelessly for the beautiful new young judge, Irene Menendez Hastigs (Soledad Villamil), who is really out of his league. But they form a relationship of sorts, as Benjamin hounds the killer, with help from his colleague, the hapless Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), who has a habit of getting happily drunk. These are relationships that play important roles in the story, as is the relationship he forms with the victim's heartbroken husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago).

It is the bespectacled and dowdy Sandoval, for example, who figures out a key clue to finding the killer; it is also Sandoval who shields Benjamin from thugs. It is Irene who supports Benjamin, aware of his feelings for her, even as she is about to marry someone else. It is Irene who becomes his confidante 25 years later as he tries to expunge this nightmare from his life - only to discover he's not the only one to have lived with it for so long, so deeply.

The entire cast is uniformly superb, helping to lift this gripping thriller well above the average, with its intelligent, layered, completely satisfying screenplay, with its backdrop the politically oppressed Argentina of the 80s, when those in power made their own rules.

The director (and editor) Juan Jose Campanella, makes our connections to the characters and their fate emotionally sensitive as he unravels a story told in two time frames and with memories jostling and cheating and teasing our protagonist. It's an assured, powerful film that makes the best use of the tools of cinema, from camera angles and framing to cinematography, the score and production design. Oscar worthy, indeed.
First published in the Sun Herald

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(Argentina/Spain 2009)

El secreto de sus ojos

CAST: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella, Jose Luis Gioia, Carla Quevedo, Mario Alarcon, Rudy Romano, Alejandro Abelenda, Sebastian Blanco

PRODUCER: Muriel Cabeza

DIRECTOR: Juan Jose Campanella

SCRIPT: Juan Jose Campanella, Eduardo Sacheri (novel by Sacheri)


EDITOR: Juan Jose Campanella

MUSIC: Federico Jusid, Emilio Kaderer

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Marcelo Pont Verges

RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes



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