Saturday, April 24, 2010

"El Secreto de sus Ojos" a Haunting Love Story--A Short Review for a Saturday

Benjamin, a retired investigator is haunted by the unsolved 25-year-old murder of a young woman, and turns his experience on the case into a novel.  He recalls his relationship with his friends and colleages, especially the beautiful District Attorney, Irene, for whom he has a platonic love. As the novel is completed, he revisits Irene, and as old feelings are rekindled between them, the crime is solved, and the hero learns lessons about living in the past and the questionable value of old memories, and finds the courage  move forward with life.

This Oscar-winning Foreign language film from Argentina starts out slowly, even dryly, but soon finds its promise and becomes a multi-leveled meditation on friendship, revenge, resignation, and the satisfactions of writing, as well as a suspenseful procedural and a moving, hopeful story of love's missed opportunities and second chances.  It is beautifully done, and one hopes its achievements are not so subtle as to be lost on the casual viewer.

These characters are well-drawn and believable, and the performers are all first-rate.  The various plots and subplots are so compelling that viewers may forget they are watching a fiction film; it has the maturity and unblinking honesty of "Z", and the low-key suspense of "The Lives of Others".  It's also filled with human foible and humor, surprising twists and stunning action sequences.  The chase through the soccer stadium is masterfully directed and photographed; the interrogation scene is sly and revealing in more ways than you can imagine; and the climactic revelation which solves the mystery is creepy without resorting to gratuitous violence.

This is a worthy albeit surprising addition to the Academy's slate of Foreign Film winners. It is an effective character study and mystery for adults, and although it succeeds on that level, it lacks a certain aesthetic excitement that characterized the classic winners in this category.  It's definitely not for the action and mindless-comedy crowd, and so it will need a long exposure, good word-of-mouth, and perhaps its Oscar seal of approval to reach its intended audience. 

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