Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Secret In Their Eyes

Reviews - The Secret In Their Eyes

The Secret In Their Eyes

Reviewed By John Stakes

The Secret In Their Eyes
The Secret In Their Eyes
Juan Jose Campanella’s much heralded and lauded 2009 film “The Secret In Their Eyes”, the second of a trilogy of Argentine films to be screened this season, finally arrived in Keswick last Sunday to play to a huge and eagerly expectant audience.

Campanella’s film had managed to beat off stiff competition from, amongst others, “A Prophet”, and “The White Ribbon”, (both having been screened by the Club) in 2009 to win the Oscar for best foreign language film. It was thus an obvious candidate for inclusion in this season’s films and here was the opportunity to compare it with the other contenders.

But was it worth the wait? Did the “Eyes” have it? For this reviewer, disappointingly, no. Although there were a number of potentially interesting themes to work into the story including memory recall, fictionalising historical events, police corruption, unrequited love, and justice, all were but superficially ventilated and deployed only in the service of plot development in an increasingly unlikely yarn.

For example, the two scenes in which highly dubious and inadmissible confessions were extracted were included not to expose failings within the judicial system but as a ready made device to move the creaking plot along.

None of the characterisations rang true which probably explained why no part of the plot was truly character driven and relied entirely on artifice. We were supposed to believe for example that retired investigator Benjamin Esposito and his former immediate superior Irene (now a judge) had unrequited feelings for each other spanning 25 years, but there was not a flicker of any underlying mutual passion and a distinct lack of chemistry between them. Indeed, all Irene was called upon to do with him was to wag her reproving finger or distance herself from his investigative exploits. When, after a quarter of a century, and with what remained of the mystery finally solved, we were supposed to swallow the conceit that Esposito merely had to summon up the courage to tell Irene he’d always hankered after her to find her ready and willing to take him on. Perhaps Esposito’s reticence all those years ago reflected a sense of social inferiority but there was nothing in their professional or personal relationship (or in the quality of the acting of the two leads) to warrant any concern as to whether or not anything would come of it.

Throughout the flashback periods of the film Esposito was played inexplicably as a bumbling but well intentioned idiot, correctly described by Irene as a “dimwit”, but supposedly possessing that rare quality which comes to the aid of a plot when ideas run out- the ”Hunch” which in his case manifested itself in the apparent ability to see the truth in or behind other people’s eyes. For all his criticism of police techniques and corruption, his own methods were highly questionable, and even Irene joined him in this respect by plucking the well worn sexual entrapment technique from her interviewing manual to secure a farcical and totally inadmissible confession from Gomez (the killer).

Campanella also wrote the screenplay which was a mistake. Excepting expletives none of the dialogue belonged in any police investigation department or rang true in the outside world. The partners in crime buddy language between Esposito and his drunken side-kick Sandoval was initially amusing but soon became irritating and eventually tiresome. Their personal and detecting antics would not even have passed muster in a Mel Gibson film and occupied far too much of the first hour of the film,
so destroying its potential to be taken seriously. The only purpose of their relationship was to set up the plot twist which caused Sandoval to pass himself off as Esposito and be shot by contract killers who, again inexplicably save as a plot device, had no idea what their target looked like despite the fact that they’d been hired by the police!

This reviewer searched in vain for some gravitas, something compelling and involving, lifting this film from pot-boiling mediocrity into a moving experience worthy of an Oscar accolade. The flashback technique to the events in 1974 generated some initial intrigue, and there were some editorial and sub-Hitchcockian directorial flourishes, but these were no substitute for substance. Superficiality, padding and pretentiousness reigned, and the whole exercise was redeemed only by some excellent cinematography and effort in the make-up department. Overall it failed to satisfy either as a thriller or as a relationship based drama and amounted to no more than manipulative hokum.

For this reviewer the film’s only real mystery was how it managed to persuade the American jury into crowning it the best foreign language film of the year. Perhaps the director’s work on popular US TV series helped, and, to be fair, this was not the director’s first Oscar contender. But the other 2009 contenders were in a different league by a country mile.

However one of the largest audiences in the Club’s history clearly felt otherwise and thoroughly enjoyed the film voting it amongst the most popular of the season. At least this reviewer can take some small comfort from the knowledge that Campanella’s movie divided its critics and a contrary viewpoint can inform debate.

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