This week was Conor’s first presentation, and he went the daring route of showing us a “reading movie” (i.e. a subtitled film).

Poor Jason!

But Conor’s choice was a great film – 2009’s El secreto de sus ojos (“The Secret In Their Eyes”), an Argentinian film by Juan José Campanella that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture.

Despite a bit of a Hollywood setup (the film opens with the main character writing a novel about the main events of the story 25 years after the fact) the movie mostly avoids falling into the easiest Hollywood traps.

You know, I think it’s too late for the whole “if your hand is bigger than your face you have cancer” gag…

Esposito, the former Federal agent writing the novel memorializing a failed murder prosecution and a lost love has trouble beginning his novel, but is drawn to a parting scene in a train station.

Why of course! A Tellurium/Molybdenum ceramic would be PERFECT for my experiments in superconductivity!

Esposito is subconsciously anxious enough writing his novel that he wakes up in the middle of the night to impulsively write “Temo” (“I fear”) on a random sheet of paper.  It soon becomes clear that he was train-parting with Irene, his supervisor at the time, whom he visits 25 years later in an effort to get feedback on the book.  Irene is now a judge, which becomes a bit useful later on.

I love all this granite – it helps my face fit in

From here, the story mostly places itself in the past to follow the outline of the novel.  Esposito is a young Federal agent in a Buenos Aires office that investigates, among other things, murders.  He’s chasing after his new Cornell-bred boss Irene despite her engagement to another man.

I may not look like much now, but in 25 years I’ll have held up really well!

One day, Esposito is assigned a particularly brutal rape-murder case.  Interest initially falls on the husband, Morales, (as is standard in these sort of things) but in interviewing Morales, Esposito comes up with a better suspect.

My wife is dead and you buy me coffee. Great. Thanks.

It turns out that in the old photos of Morales’ wife from her hometown, there was often a friend (Gomez) present who was persistently looking at her instead of the camera (nicely paralleled later by a shot of Esposito and Irene).  A bit of investigation turns up his name and the fact that he has also moved to Buenos Aires, and that he disappeared shortly after the murder.

The open lust in Esposito’s eyes

In the meantime an unscrupulous employee from a rival office (OK, really, a rival office within the Feds?) has rounded up some unconnected laborers and forced a confession out of them.  Esposito exposes this hatchet job, which really does little for inter-office relations.

I’d rather have this bottle in front of me than…well, just about anything, really.

Esposito and his drunk officemate Sandoval attempt to execute some illegal evidence gathering at Gomez’s mother’s house (counter to Irene’s commands) and end up getting caught.  This effectively scuttles the case, which is closed for a year.

However, after a year, Esposito runs into the widower Morales patiently staking out the train stations in Buenos Aires hoping to catch Gomez arriving and Esposito convinces the court to reopen the case.  Morales is particularly interested in the penalty that Gomez would receive if he were caught, and is gratified that Gomez would get a life term, feeling that the death penalty (which Argentina did not have) was too easy of an ending.  He states that four bullets (the number that killed his wife) was not a sufficient punishment.

It is Sandoval who comes up with the critical insight – a series of mysterious names in Gomez’s letters (stolen from his house that year before) actually belong to metric footballers.  “A guy can change anything,” Sandoval says. “His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion,his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change. He can’t change his passion…”  And Gomez’s passion is for a particular Argentinian metric football club.  Against all odds, they finally track him down at a match, capture him, extract a confession, and convict him to life in prison.

I’m 5’10” with brown hair and brown eyes, I like long walks on the beach, metric football, and rape.  Wait, can I start over?

Movie over!

Oh, wait.  There’s the matter of the panicked call that Esposito receives from Morales some short time later pointing out that Gomez has been seen on TV, in a politician’s security detail.  It turns out that that old rival of Esposito’s arranged for a pardon in revenge for the shaming he got earlier in the case.

Nice elevator you’ve got here, it would be a shame if sumfing were to happen to it…

Gomez eventually finds Esposito and, shall we say, threatens him and Irene in an elevator at their work.  And all this is in the midst of Esposito finally trying to convince Irene to leave her fiancee for him.  Unfortunately, his pre-arranged “negotiation session” is interrupted by Esposito having to collect the drunken Sandoval again.  Sandoval’s wife has had enough and won’t let him come home, so Esposito drops him off at his own place.

He and Irene return a short time later to find his place torn up, his pictures face down, and Sandoval gunned down in the bedroom.  Realizing that Gomez is after him, Esposito is forced to flee, and we now know the source of the train station scene.

It’s not entirely clear why Irene doesn’t leave with him, both in the connubial sense and in the sense of “why was it safe for her to stay in Buenos Aires and not Esposito?”

Remember me? I have gray hair now!

The movie then moves fully to the present, where Irene helps to determine the whereabouts of Morales, in order to help Esposito find closure on the case. Morales, it turns out, moved to a remote farmhouse shortly after Esposito fled town, and Gomez has never been seen again.  When Morales is tracked down, he is perhaps understandably reluctant to talk about the case.  But after Esposito pushes too hard, including the speculation that Sandoval must have turned over his pictures in order to convince his killers that he in fact was Esposito, Morales cracks, and admits to reading about Sandoval’s murder, knowing of Esposito’s danger, contriving to kidnap Gomez, and then shooting him four times in the trunk of his car.

But something doesn’t ring true with Esposito – a man cannot change his passion, and Morales’ passion was life imprisonment, not death, for Gomez.  So he sneaks back onto the property and finds Morales going to an out-building that night.  He follows him in, and finds that it is a makeshift prison, with Morales now carrying out Gomez’s sentence.

Oh, and the note that says “temo”?  Esposito scratches an “A” into it (note the manuscript from the “A”-less typewriter in the background of the picture above) to create “te amo” (“I love you”).  Back in Buenos Aires, with a note of hope for a future between the still smitten Esposito and Irene, the film ends.

I liked that for the most part the film avoided the “twist”.  There were several opportunities for such a twist.  Rarely is the first suspect (Gomez) the right one.  Even at the end, when Morales is acting suspicious while he talks with Esposito, there is still that Hollywood expectation that somehow the murder was committed by Morales himself and that Gomez was set up.  But the story is much more straightforward than that, and quite appreciated for it.

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