Argentinian films are more conspicuous by their absence than anything else. At least over here in Scotland. However the recent award of the Oscar for Best Film in a Foreign Language to an Argentinian film may help encourage more cinemas to show films from Argentina. I must admit that I have seen hardly any Argentinian films so it was with no great expectations that I went to see The Secret in Their Eyes, the winner of the Oscar which was shown last month at the DCA.
As it turned out this is a very good film and well worthy of the Oscar. Directed by Juan José Campanella and based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri, the DCA billed the film as a thriller, which surprises me as it is not at all like a thriller. It is in fact quite difficult to categorize the film. There are elements of various genres in the film. On the original posters it is billed as "a crime, a mystery, a love".
While the acton does revolve around a murder and the tracking down of the murderer, this is only really the backdrop as it were to the film. In the first place the murder took place some 20 years or so earlier and we soon find out who did the killing. So there is no great mystery to be resolved there. However these scenes take place in the dying years of the Presidency of Eva Perón. This was the beginning of the "dirty war" against civilians and the murderer was released to act as an agent of the secret police. This brought the film`s protagonist, Benjamín Espósito, the legal counsellor who led the case into conflict with the secret police, and Benjamín has to flee Buenos Aires to find work in provinces. This does provide us with some edge of your seat moments, but these are not prolonged enough to justify calling the film a thriller.
All these events are told in flashback as Benjamín, now retired and back in Buenos Aires, tries to write a novel about this case and in particular find out what happened to the murderer. Many of these scenes are quite comic as Benjamín`s assistant, Pablo Sandoval, is often drunk and the pair of them make a suitable odd couple. It is in fact Pablo who makes most of the breakthroughs in the investigation.
However the heart of the film for me was the simmering, but unfulfilled romance between Benjamín and his then boss, Irene Menéndez Hastings. She comes from an upper class background and Benjamin can never quite summon up enough courage to declare his love. Now that he is retired and researching for his novel he is often in contact with Irene again, who is still the boss of the department. It is clear that their feelings have not changed, but can Benjamín overcome his fears?
This is an exquisitely filmed work with a tremendous cast. Guillermo Francella as Pablo Sandoval and Pablo Rago as the husband of the murdered woman are excellent. However the two leads are simply outstanding - Ricardo Darín as Benjamín and Soledad Villamil as the lovely and demure Irene. Darín in particular puts in a powerful performance and his role dominates the film. However he and Villamil clearly have some chemistry between them and you can feel the tension and hidden passion in their scenes together.
As a Scot I was particularly taken by the first appearance of Soledad Villamil. Introduced as the new boss of the department her last surname - Hastings - was pronounced as in Spanish, ie without sounding the H. Immediately, Irene corrected the person and stated that her name was pronounced with the H as Hastings was a Scottish name. Oh, how easily we Scots can be pleased. Even for non Scots this is a great film and well worth seeing.
To complement this post I thought I would briefly recommend the other Argentinian film that I have seen recently. This was last year and was shown on TV. Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas) was produced in 2000 and was written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky. It also stars Ricardo Darin. Here he plays a con artist who enlists the help of another, younger conman in order to carry out another money making scam. This revolves around the Nine Queens of the title, which refers to a rare group of stamps.
The scam becomes ever more complicated as more and more characters become involved. With a fair amount of double dealing going on, you are never sure until the very end just who will come out on top. This is a very clever and subtle film with fine performances from all the cast. Ricardo Darín and Gastón Pauls play the two conmen and dominate the film though the supporting cast are all good, especially Leticia Brédice as the love interest. I enjoyed both these films and must somehow try and see more films from Argentina.