At first I couldn’t figure out what was so quaint and yet so appealing about Juan Jose Campanella’s movie. With its emphasis on story telling and dialogue rather than cinematic grammar, The Secret In Their Eyes reminded me more of a TV drama than a theatrical release. It was after some time that I learned that Campanella often directs TV series, like House or Law and Order. All the better, I thought, since his artistic choices lend the film a literary quality that even made some of the dialogue worth quoting.
Amply set in gloomy Argentina of the ’70s, this film noir begins as the main protagonist, a lonely, disillusioned retired prosecutor, Esposito, decides to write the story of an unsolved murder that has been haunting him along his career.
Esposito’s flashbacks and interior monologues take us to the murder scene: on a fine sunny day, in 1974, the beautiful young wife of a dreary bank clerk is found raped and murdered in her apartment.
These are the days of the juntas and the los desaparecidos, and Esposito’s rival, officer Romano, has no difficulties beating up a murder confession out of two helpless foreigners who happened to work next to the couple’s building. Esposito, who exposes the scam, gradually becomes obsessed not only with the unresolved case, but also with the tremendous love the widowed husband feels for his murdered wife. Esposito finally traces a plausible suspect from a photo album that belonged to the wife, and together with his alcoholic co-worker, launches on a tragic-comic quest. He finally captures the suspect (in one of the movie’s longest and visually most impressive scenes), who confesses and is jailed. But justice in the days of the juntas doesn’t last long; Esposito’s bitter rival releases the murderer who joins the president’s security guard, and Esposito himself is exiled to spend the rest of his service in the remote province of Jujuy.
It is a story about passion and its other side, namely obsession. Writing the events not only may vindicate the past, but also allows Esposito to meet again with his socially superior boss, the beautiful Irene. As the plot unfolds, we realize Esposito has replaced his hopeless passion for Irene with his unsuccessful obsession for the unresolved case. But can passion be conquered? The closure is grotesquely surprising as it follows the logic of one of the film’s most memorable quotes:
“…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…”