One of the many reasons movies from France, Italy, Spain and other parts of the world make it so casually into the 'Best Foreign Film' category of the Academy awards each year is because more often than not, they are based on a novel. It is essential to understand that while an excellent novel is rarely translated into a fitting onscreen equivalent (rare exceptions like 'The Green Mile' and 'Lord of the Rings' notwithstanding) when they do make that critical jump, they become masterpieces. So perhaps it was this fact, that 'El secreto de sus ojos' (meaning – The secret of his eyes : the film from Argentina that won the coveted 'Best Foreign Film' at the recently held Academy Awards) was based on the novel 'La pregunta de sus ojos' that made me want to see it considering every year that award goes to some film and we don't really watch each of them.
And so the story goes like this. A young married woman – Liliana Coloto – has been brutally raped and murdered. Her husband, Ricardo Morales, is shattered. Investigating the case is federal justice agent Benjamin Esposito along with his alcoholic assistant Pablo Sandoval. Despite an amazingly spot on lead, Benjamin struggles to track down the prime suspect – Isodoro Gomez – and bring him to justice. Also affecting Benjamin's case is his hopeless attraction to his newly assigned department chief Irene Menendez-Hastings. As it turns out, despite various valiant efforts – one involving a breathe taking 5 minute single frame shot – Benjamin is not able to redeem Ricardo's loss. Despite capturing Isodoro, the man walks free thanks to some major connections being managed by the heads at the top. Benjamin is left with an incomplete case, an unfinished trial and an unrequited love.
Years fly by. Benjamin, now retired, is conjuring up the words to write a novel based on this incomplete and rather disturbing case. Try as hard as he may, he is not able to put past the broken face of Ricardo and the tragic end of Pablo. In sheer desperation, he meets up with Irene again and without a care about the historical accuracy of the events, he begins to recollect the facts so that he can put his novel together and bring some sort of closure to the one case that has haunted him for so many years. It is during this journey, that something his late friend Pablo had once said sitting in a dimly lit bar comes back to him. About how a man can give up anything, can change and redesign any abstraction in his life, but if there is one thing he cannot erase – it is his passion. Either for a game, a person, an art form or – as Benjamin realizes shockingly – a memory.
'El secreto de sus ojos' isn't a thriller that takes us into a world of crime and investigation the way shows like CSI do. In fact I found it to be more a love story in its nucleus than anything else. It is in Benjamin's passionate love for Irene, that he is able to comprehend why Isodoro did what he did. It is in the same passionate vein of truth that Benjamin learns (in the most brilliant climactic sequences I have seen in a while) what Ricardo chooses to do what he does. Passion – the real ingredient in any good dish.
Needless to say I have not read the source for this movie 'La pregunta de sus ojos' but if I ever get a translated version of it, which I am quite sure might not have the same essence of magic to it, I certainly intend to dive in. 'El secreto de sus ojos' is a brilliant movie with a timeless message about a man's passion and the lengths to which he will go to keep it alive.