El secreto de sus ojos
I was surprised to see that 'Un Prophète didn't win the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Not because I'd seen all the others, but because it is such a good film. So it was with anticipation that I sat down to watch what, in principle, is an even better film. I wasn't totally disappointed.
It's Beunos Aires, Argentina in 1999, but the story opens 25 years earlier, with the murder of the beloved young wife of bank clerk Ricardo Morales. A murder in the first ten minutes usually means we're in for a whodunit, and El Secreto is no exception. Enter our young hero Benjamín Espósito and his loveable, if alcoholic assistant Pablo Sandova who have been assigned by the Beunos Aires Justice Department to investigate. Also enter their even younger boss, the lovely Irene. And now we're all here, what next?
Flash forward to 1999 where our hero Benjamín, now retired, drops in on the 25 years older, now senior lawyer, Irene, to tell her he has decided to write a book about the case. And so, flashing back and forth, the two ends of the story get to meet.
It's pretty good stuff. From the unremarkable beginning, the plot moves along at a nice, if leisurely pace. The murder case gets solved quite early on, although whodunit isn't obvious, and it takes a while to track him down. There are some fantastic football (soccer) stadium shots (sorry, pet love of mine), then some other unexpected stuff happens, followed by a satisfying twisty end. Sandwiched into this are the developing relationships between the various participants. There's the almost Laurel and Hardy partnership of our hero Espósito and his drunken comrade Sandova. The unspoken respect of Espósito for the bereaved Morales. But most especially the unexpressed passion between Espósito and the unattainable Irene.
In El Secreto, where character arcs are as important as the plot, nobody lets the side down. Acting - from a cast unknown to me (Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago in the three major roles) is competent, believable and engaging. The sub-plot reaches a satisfying conclusion (albeit with echoes of 'Love in the Time of Cholera'). All in all, an engaging and competent piece of work.
So how it won the Oscar over 'Un Prophète', whose subtlety, depth and complexity of both plot and character make it a vastly superior piece of work, is a mystery to me. They're not even in the same league.
And I have to add a postscript. Our hero, Benjamín Espósito is played by Ricardo Darín (born 1957). And not, imagine this, by Javier Bardem (born 1969, No Country for Old Men, Love in the Time of Cholera, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Penelope Cruz's latest squeeze). Who, I remember in particular from the superb 'El Mar Adentro' (The Sea Inside, 2004). Check out their pix, they could be brothers.