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The Secret in Their Eyes

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The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes
Spanish language theatrical poster
Directed by Juan José Campanella
Produced by Juan José Campanella
Gerardo Herrero
Mariela Besuievski
Written by Eduardo Sacheri
Juan José Campanella
Based on La pregunta de sus ojos 
by Eduardo Sacheri
Starring Ricardo Darín
Soledad Villamil
Guillermo Francella
Pablo Rago
Javier Godino
Mariano Argento
José Luis Gioia
Music by Federico Jusid
Emilio Kauderer
Cinematography Félix Monti
Edited by Juan José Campanella
Tornasol Films
Haddock Films
100 Bares
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Distribution Company (Argentina)
Release dates
  • August 13, 2009 (2009-08-13)
Running time 129 min.
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Box office $33,965,279 (Worldwide)[1]

The Secret in Their Eyes (Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos) is a 2009 Argentine crime thriller film directed, produced and edited by Juan José Campanella and written by Eduardo Sacheri and Campanella, based on Sacheri's novel La pregunta de sus ojos (The Question in Their Eyes). The film, a joint production of Argentine and Spanish companies,[2] stars Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil.

The story unearths the buried romance between a retired judiciary employee and a judge who worked together a quarter century ago. They recount their efforts on an unsolved 1974 rape and murder that is an obsession not only for them, but for the victim's husband and the killer.[3] The double setting frames the period of Argentina's Dirty War (1976–1983), a violent time when criminality often went unpunished.[4][5]

In 2009, it was the recipient of awards in both Hollywood and Spain. The picture won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, and, with 1985's The Official Story, made Argentina the first country in Latin America to win it twice.[6][7] Three weeks before, it had received the Spanish equivalent with the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film.[8] As of 2010, it was only surpassed at the Argentine box office by Leonardo Favio's 1975 classic Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf (Nazareno Cruz y el lobo).[9][10]


Retiree Benjamín Espósito is having trouble getting started on his first novel. He pays a visit to the offices of Judge Irene Menéndez-Hastings to tell her about his plans to recount the story of the Coloto case, the one they both worked on 25 years before, when she was his new department chief and he was the federal agent assigned to the case. She suggests he start at the beginning.

The beginning is the day that Espósito was assigned to the rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, who was attacked in her home on a fine June morning in 1974. Espósito promises her widower, Ricardo Morales, that the killer will do life for his crime. His investigation is joined by his alcoholic friend and assistant, Pablo Sandoval, and the Cornell-educated Hastings. Before the three can start, their rival, Romano, tries to show them up by having officers beat a confession out of two innocent construction laborers, who had been working near the couple's apartment. Espósito gets them released and physically attacks Romano in a justice building hall.

Back on the case, the agent finds a clue to the murderer's identity in Liliana's photo albums. He notices that pictures from her home town of Chivilcoy frequently show a suspicious young man named Isidoro Gómez; his eyes never leave her.

Irene finds this draft of the story unbelievable, since she does not agree that an agent can identify a killer by the look in his eyes. Benjamín insists all of a young man's feeling for a woman is spoken there.

Although Gómez was recently in Buenos Aires, he has left both his apartment and employment. Espósito and Sandoval travel to Chivilcoy and sneak into Gómez's mother's house, where they find his letters to her. Sandoval steals them but they contain nothing useful and, when their supervising judge learns of the illegal action, the case is closed.

Over an evening review of the manuscript, Benjamín reminds Irene that it was only one week later that she announced her engagement. The memory is poignant, and she decides that she cannot revisit the past through his novel any more.

A year after the case was closed, Espósito runs into Morales and learns that he maintains daily surveillance at Buenos Aires railway stations, in the hope of catching Gómez passing through. Deeply impressed, Espósito successfully appeals to Hastings to reopen the case. In the end, Sandoval produces the critical insight: he realizes that names in the letters refer to players on Racing Club, a Buenos Aires football club, indicating Gómez's fixed "passion" for the team. Therefore, Espósito and Sandoval attend a match for Racing and spot Gómez in the crowd, who slips away when a Racing goal sends the crowd into a frenzy. Gómez is pursued by the duo through the stadium and nearly vanishes before he is cornered, arrested, and taken in for questioning. Espósito's largely illegal interrogation is interrupted by Hastings, but when she finds herself looking in the suspect's eyes, she uses her status and sexuality to provoke him with taunts about his masculine inadequacies. It works: he exposes himself and takes a swing at her in the same moment he confesses. Justice seems served.

Late one night, while contemplating the sacrifice of his lost friend Pablo Sandoval, Benjamín gets a call from Irene asking to see the rest of his book.

In 1975, the widower sees his wife's killer on television, included in a security detail for the president of Argentina, María Estela Martínez de Perón. Hastings and Espósito quickly establish that Romano, now working for a government agency, released the murderer to settle the old score. Romano insults them both, taunting Espósito for being beneath Hastings. Undeterred, she later invites Espósito to offer his objections to her impending marriage plans later that night. Before they can meet, however, he has to leave a very intoxicated Sandoval in his living room to run and fetch Sandoval's wife to take him home, but when the two return they find the front door broken and Sandoval inside, shot to death with a submachine gun. Now fearing that Romano wants him killed, Espósito accepts the remote isolation of Jujuy Province. Hastings takes him to the train station for a disconsolate goodbye.

The novel complete, Irene shares her satisfaction with the results, although she doesn't find the scene in the train station believable. They agree the story lacks the right ending. Benjamín is looking for the answer to a question: "How does one live a life full of nothing?". With Irene's help, Benjamín locates Ricardo Morales leading a quiet life in a rural area of Buenos Aires Province, and takes his finished book there. Although the widower apparently has relinquished his obsession with the murder case, Benjamín has to ask him how he has lived without the love of his life for 25 years. When Benjamín repeats Pablo's final promise to get Gómez, Ricardo hesitantly confesses that in 1975 he ended Gómez's stalking of Benjamín by kidnapping and shooting him dead.

A disturbed Benjamín starts the drive back to the city, distracted that something doesn't seem right. Impulsively, he pulls over, leaves his car by the side of the road, and stealthily returns to Ricardo's property. He follows Ricardo into a small building set near the main house, where he is shocked to find Gómez living in a makeshift cell, undetectable from the outside. Gómez plaintively asks Benjamín to request that Ricardo at least speak to him. Ricardo reminds Benjamín of his promise that Gómez would never go free.

Benjamín pays his respects at Pablo's grave, then goes to see Irene with an evident sense of purpose. She notices something different in his eyes, reminds him that it will be complicated, and asks him to close the door.


Political context

The setting of the film ties its characters to the political situation in Argentina in the period just before and after Argentina's human rights violations and a genocide.[12][13][14]


For this joint Argentine/Spanish production,[2] Campanella returned from the United States, where he had directed episodes of the television series House and Law & Order, to film The Secret in Their Eyes. It marked his fourth collaboration with actor-friend Ricardo Darín, who had previously starred in all three of Campanella's Argentine-produced films in the lead role. Frequent collaborator Eduardo Blanco, however, is not featured in the movie; the part of Darín's character's friend is played instead by comedian Guillermo Francella.[15]

In addition to presenting the appropriate ambiance for Argentina in the mid-1970s, it features the realization of another formidable technical challenge in creating a continuous five-minute-long shot (designed by the visual effects supervisor Rodrigo S. Tomasso), that encompasses an entire stadium during a live football match. From a standard aerial overview we approach the stadium, dive in, cross the field between the players mid-match and find the protagonist in the crowd, then take a circular move around him and follow as he shuffles through the stands until he finds the suspect, only to conclude with a feverish stop-and-go chase on foot through the murky rooms and corridors beneath the stands, finally ending under the lights in the middle of the pitch. The scene was filmed in the stadium of football club Huracán, and took three months of pre-production, three days of shooting and nine months of post-production. Two hundred extras took part in the shooting, and visual effects created a fully packed stadium with nearly fifty thousand fans.[16][17][18][19]


The Secret in Their Eyes received very positive reviews from critics, not only in Argentina,[20][21] but also abroad; it holds a 91% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus being: "Unpredictable and rich with symbolism, this Argentinian murder mystery lives up to its Oscar with an engrossing plot, Juan Jose Campanella's assured direction, and mesmerizing performances from its cast". On the website Metacritic it holds a score of 81/100, meaning "Universal acclaim", based on 33 critic reviews.


  1. ^ "The Secret in Their Eyes".  
  2. ^ a b Hollywood Reporter, Spanish films do better abroad than at home
  3. ^ French, Philip (14 August 2010). "The Secret in Their Eyes". London: The Observer. 
  4. ^ "Justice Diluted in Argentina". The New York Times. 1987-02-25. 
  5. ^ Christian, Shirley (1987-08-13). "Rights Unit Says Argentina Faced an Army Threat". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Academy Awards Official website - Foreign Language Film Category
  7. ^ Coyle, Jake (7 March 2010). "Argentine film `Secret in Their Eyes' wins Oscar". U-T San Diego. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Buenos Aires Herald, 1 March 2010
  9. ^ El multifacético Leonardo Favio(Spanish)
  10. ^ The Secret in Their Eyes is already a record (Spanish)
  11. ^ The Secret in Their Eyes: Historical Memory, Production Models, and the Foreign Film Oscar (WEB EXCLUSIVE) Matt Losada, Cineaste Magazine, 2010
  12. ^ Atrocities in Argentina (1976–1983) Holocaust Museum of Houston
  13. ^ Time to Stop Calling Argentina’s Last Dictatorship a “Dirty War” Latino Rebels
  14. ^ CONADEP, Nunca Más Report, Chapter II, Section One:Advertencia, [1] (Spanish)
  15. ^ "Eduardo Blanco (actor)". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  16. ^ magazine, September 2009Criterio (Spanish)
  17. ^ "The Secret of their Eyes - VFX Breakdown Huracan (Part1)". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  18. ^ "El secreto de sus ojos - making of". YouTube. 2010-04-05. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  19. ^ "El Secreto de sus ojos - Escena del Estadio". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  20. ^ "Puntaje promedio de "El secreto de sus ojos" en la redacción de El Amante" (in Spanish). 
  21. ^ , by Diego BattleEl secreto de sus ojos, de Juan José Campanella (Spanish)

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