So, this is the film that the Academy deemed to be better than "Un Prophete" and "The White Ribbon" eh?
Well, I did see.
Is it better than the two other films that I felt should have won the Academy Award for best foreign language film?
I guess that depends on what you mean by "better" doesn't it?
To my mind "The White Ribbon" was never going to win simply because of the fact that it was a "difficult" film. It was a little too, well, arty for the Academy. I did think that "Un Prophete" could snatch the award though because it had a more, um, conventional feel to it even if it did include the ghost of a murdered prisoner giving advice to the central character.
Having now seen "The Secrets in Their Eyes" I think that the right film won.
The right film for the Academy.
Technically "The White Ribbon" is superior and has more important things to say and, for me, "Un Prophete" was a better film technically and visually but for the Academy "The Secrets in Their Eyes" was the only one of the three that would sit well with their sensibilities and so I can understand why it won.
The film itself brings us the story of a retired Argentinian police officer, Esposito, as he revisits an old case of rape and murder. The man responsible was brought to justice, sentenced but then released to take up a role as an informant and undercover agent for another department headed up by an old enemy of Esposito. The story of how the guilty man, Gomez, is found is told in flashback as Esposito visits his old boss, Irene, to discuss a book he has written about the case. As we flit from past to present we learn that the case has left marks on everyone involved.
From this simple premise director Juan Jose Campanella crafts a film that is never anything less than engaging and is often much more. At times the suspense is unbearable...when Esposito tracks Gomez to a football stadium the ensuing cat and mouse chase is one of the most memorable scenes I have ever enjoyed in a film. Similarly when Esposito and Irene find themselves sharing an elevator with the recently released murderer the tension is almost palpable.
The performances from all of the cast are superb, in particular Ricardo Darin as Esposito is absolutely wonderful. As the young man he is full of bravado, fight and gung-ho spirit and as the older man he is world weary, rueful and wise...it's a really great performance. It's the type of performance that when it is, inevitably, performed by an American actor in the English language remake will garner an Oscar nod.
Despite so much to commend "Secrets" it does flag towards the conclusion and the denoument, when it comes, doesn't pack the punch that it could have had we been spared some fifteen minutes or so of the time it took to arrive. But this is a teeny-weeny (and possibly groundless) complaint that may well be born out of my outrage at "Un Prophete" not receiving the Oscar. I suppose that, in truth, we should be celebrating the fact that in "The White Ribbon", "Un Prophete" and "The Secrets in Their Eyes" we had three films that all garnered praise and recognition outside of arthouse cinemas...that can only be a good thing.