El Secreto de Sus Ojos (review) - the world is not only in black and white
The Secret in Their Eyes (Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos) is a 2009 crime drama film directed, co-written, produced and edited by Juan José Campanella, based on the novel La pregunta de sus ojos by Eduardo Sacheri, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The film is a joint production of Argentine and Spanish companies.
Using a nonlinear narrative, the film depicts a judiciary employee and his boss, a law clerk, in 1974, played by Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil, as they investigate a rape and murder case, while also following the characters 25 years later reminiscing over the case and unearthing the buried romance between them.
The film received awards in both Hollywood and Spain, notably the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards. Three weeks before, it had received the Spanish equivalent with the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film. At the time of its release, it became the second highest-grossing film in Argentine history, surpassed only by 1975’s Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf.
The story line is intricately intertwined, with layers both on the front and deeply buried. After the ending scene, it still left a bitter, rusty taste in my mouth. I have indeed enjoyed watching the movie, it is similar to most of the mainstream movies — paced fast enough, portraying dramatic issues that would attract eye ball, easy-to-follow story lines — but is still implicitly trying to illustrate deep-rooted social issues and raise awareness. It is about loyalty, redemption, the fixed nature of human, the predictability of how so-called “justice” would turn out, sexual assault, how human allow fear to get into the way of gaining more — love, a life filled with uncertainty but wonder. I appreciate the way the movie toned down each issue it is trying to portray so that they don’t overtake each other, nor were they overstated merely for the merit of entertaining the audience.
As entertaining as the movie is to me, I cannot exactly pinpoint why it got an Oscar. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it managed to capture the complicated, multi-faucet nature of human. Or perhaps it challenged the definition of “moral highpoint”. Is law equal to justice? Is rank equal to power or even rights? Is it still justice when the law and rank combined with each other and created injustice? On the other hand, I find the more minor character Sandóval captivating. He is depicted as a weaker human being, giving in to his cravings now and often, messing up the more important stuff, but he is unwavering in his believes — true justice should be served, friends should be protected — and he is actually insanely insightful to human nature. I think most of us cannot imagine becoming Irene or Espósito, but we are more or less a Sandóval, trying to align our outlook on the world with the ruler inside our heart, trying to survive but at the same time trying to do better than merely survive. I admire the way he passed away, dying for the right thing he believed in, serving the last time for his definition of justice and belief.
I do not believe Espósito would tattle-tale on Morales in the end. The fact that he is hung on the case proved that he as well is obsessed with whether true justice is served, despite him working for the written justice. When Morales said “You promised me life,” I think that he is also calling out a hidden mental debt Espósito (the whole law system) owed him years ago, and that sentence combined with the dark but determined look in Morales’ eyes is probably also the closure Espósito needs on this case. I like how the movie pulls all the issues it touches together with a single theme — fixation, obsession. It runs through the movie until the last minute, and gives the audience enough clues to feel satisfied after the ending credit, making it relatable and endearing to probably most of the general public.