Romantic obsession at its two extremes is explored with sympathy and intelligence in the thriller The Secret in Their Eyes, the Oscar-winning foreign-language film from Argentina.
There's the obsession that Benjamín (Ricardo Darín) held close to his heart for years — decades — for his fellow prosecutor, Irene (Soledad Villamil). She's now a judge and he's retired, but the feelings remain.
And there's the obsession Benjamín recognized in a class photo from a case that has haunted him for years, the one he thinks he can solve and write a book about, now that he's retired.
There was a rape and murder (graphically depicted in an opening scene), an act of such savagery that it seemed both personal and sexual. Benjamín suspects a man who knew and longed for the victim in much the way he has longed for Irene all these years. He sees it in the man's eyes in that old photo.
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Juan José Campanella's film, based on the Eduardo Sacheri novel, follows Benjamín through his modern-day investigation, with flashbacks to those days when Irene was a new attorney in the office and the murder of the young woman at the center of "the Morales case" was fresh. Benjamín saw it as a crime of passion, right from the start, but his hunches were nothing to take to court.
As the years passed, the mystery ate at him, at his drunken former assistant (Guillermo Francella), at the widower of the murdered woman. And in the other unfinished business of those years, Benjamín failed to confess his love for Irene, who moved on and married.
The film touches on Argentinean history, Argentinean love for fútbol, Argentinean racism and the ugly undercurrents of fascism that remain in a country that has had its share of dictators and citizens who have simply disappeared. There are people, powerful people, who don't want old cases dug up. It's a tribute to the story's construction that the mystery only deepens the more Benjamín digs.
And as we stumble through dark toward a resolution that is both obvious and cleverly hidden, we revel in Benjamín's sad romantic longing, the obsession that really drives him and the secret that only he sees in the eyes in that photograph from so long ago.