Friday, May 20, 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) -- secrets and passions

Director: Juan José Campanella, 2009. (R)

Argentina is famous for its musical moves, namely the tango, not for its magical movies. Argentinian cinema is almost an oxymoron. Almost. With The Secret in Their Eyes Argentina won its second Oscar (Best Foreign Film, 2010), the first coming in 1985 for La Historia Oficial). This one is for a $2M film that was viewed by only 3 million people and grossed $6M. Yet, it is a worthy award winner, an engaging complex film that is part crime conspiracy, part murder mystery, part romance.

The story opens with Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) trying to write a novel about a crime, basing it on an old closed case that he investigated 25 years before. More than anything, this is his attempt to bring closure to both the old case and an old love. And through the twists and turns of the plot and a surprise ending, closure is attained.

The Morales case had been rife with corruption and confusion. Liliano Coloto (Carla Quevedo), a young teacher recently married to Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), was brutally raped and murdered one morning. Esposito was given the case. Reluctantly, he visited the crime scene with his alcoholic partner Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), but was taken by her beauty and the sadness of her loss. The tragedy struck home and the case took root in his heart.

As he begins his investigation, there are two suspects who are swiftly taken into custody. The problem is that he believes they are innocent. Looking at a variety of photos in the Morales’ apartment, the eyes of a subject tell a different story and point Esposito at a different suspect. With support from his new chief, Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil), an engaged woman several years his junior, he pursues this suspect, even though senior officials have reason to shut his investigation down.

Moving between the past and the present, we see the older Esposito visiting the now married Hastings to seek her input and advice. He is still taken by her beauty. In the flashbacks he does not recognize the signs in her eyes, and it is only now, in the present, that he understands the secrets of her eyes. It is between these two leads that the romance is played out in subtle and poignant ways. Theirs is not the lust-filled sex of a Hollywood movie; rather, they communicate their interest and romance in the glances shared between two souls attracted to one another.

One of the themes of the film is the way that the eyes can hide or convey secrets. From the secrets contained in the eyes of the chief suspect to the romance contained in the eyes of Hastings, the key is whether we discern and understand these secrets. The eyes offer the entryway to the soul. Jesus said something similar in his sermon on the mount: “The eye is the lamp of the body.” He went on, in this same passage, to declare how the eyes not only hide secrets, but declare the health of the soul: “If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matt. 6:22-23). Moreover, Jesus preached many messages in parables to retain secrets from his listeners, “otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Matt. 13:15).

The second theme emerges as Esposito and Sandoval hunt for the real killer. Having disappeared, they are at a loss to know where to look for him. But Sandoval, in a drunken monologue in his favorite pub, points out how to find him: “A guy can change anything. His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there's one thing he can't change. He can't change his passion.” This killer’s passion is his soccer team, and so they go looking for him amongst the fans at a crowded match.

Passion, then, is the other main theme that ties the film together. The killer’s passion is soccer. Esposito’s secret passion is Hastings, though it is evident in the eyes. What is our passion? Is it our home, our hobbies? Maybe it is our family, our spouse or girlfriend? These are all legitimate passions. But perhaps our biggest passion should be our God. Jesus commanded his followers to

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Our passion should begin with this relationship (not a religion) and overflow from here to those around us: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:40). Our passions surely are what we will come back to time and time again. Will this be the Lord Jesus? Or is your passion something less permanent, more transitory and less valuable? Your eyes will give it away.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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