15 August 2009 | jpschapira
The secret of Juan José
In my country, Juan José Campanella is synonym of 'cinema of the highest order'. The director works in USA and from time to time he brings a new film. We know, dramatically, what we're going to watch: Ricardo Darín in an important role, a lot of sentimentalism, references to the country's past, a love story. And technically, if it's the highest order, there won't be any complaints. When the film ended, the people in the movie theater started clapping.
"El secreto de sus ojos" tells the story of Benjamín Esposito (Darín) and his need to tell the story of a case that wasn't completely solved 25 years ago and had an important impact in his life. A woman raped and killed and a husband with the surname Morales (Pablo Rago) who went every day to every train station in Buenos Aires to see if he could find the killer. "You have to see his eyes; they are in a state of pure love", Benjamín professes in front of Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil); his boss and the woman he loves.
There are things we never forget, Campanella knows well, and that might be the film's most important declaration. We expect from the director a powerful love that grows with the years, as we saw with Darín and Villamil in "El mismo amor, la misma lluvia"; we expect characters with inner ghosts, things to hide and things to hold on to; we expect total control over the language of the environment (in "El mismo amor..." it was a magazine staff, in "Luna de Avellaneda" the neighborhood club), a knowledge of the customs and the way of speaking of characters that makes for day-to-day comedy. In this aspect, the casting of Guillermo Francella as Pablo Sandoval is crucial. Taking the place of the best friend role always in charge of Fernando Blanco, the comedian plays a drunk with a lot of respect for friendship. His change of look, the measurement of his composition and how he enlightens it with comic touches make for one of the year's best performances.
That's about everything we can expect. The fact is "El secreto de sus ojos" is a very good movie because there are things we don't see coming. The film contains a treatment of a police investigation that hasn't been seen in our cinema for years. In his riskiest picture, Campanella flirts with thriller, mystery and real action (handy-cam included); he acquires true tension and a sequence in a soccer stadium is the best example of it. He understands when silence is required and when the loneliness of the characters –each of them with a rich, mysterious private and inner world- must be seen fully. It's quite embarrassing in fact, because Darín as a director tried to achieve something like that with "La señal". Even though it's obvious Campanella took no inspiration from that film, everything that went wrong there can be seen here, improved. And Soledad Villamil is no femme fatale. I take a risk, however, and defy you to tell me if, because of image and makeup resemblance, and disposition of images and voice in off, the movie towards the finish line doesn't take direct inspiration from Chris Nolan's "The Prestige". It's quoting it somehow, at least.
It's very moving to watch excellent performances from recognized actors. We've seen them on screen so much, we know what they do, we admire them and respect them and, as with Campanella, we tend to know what to expect. However, sometimes they enchant us with every face in every frame, with every word in every conversation. I'm trying to explain to you the feeling of what Villamil and Darín do in this film: it's enchanting and contagious, purely human (as it occurred in "El mismo amor..."), but at the same time moving, simply because they're not unprofessional actors that fit in the look of the film, or young actors with expressive faces, or newcomers that take our breath away: they are Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil. Campanella has a lot to do with this, because he knows how to make them work together and he made an effort so they would not repeat what they had given us in the other film I've mentioned.
The fact that Fernando Castets didn't write the film calls our attention; the script was written by the director and Eduardo Sacheri. It also calls our attention that Campanella himself edited the movie. Is this film-making of the highest order? I believe so, in our country, and speaking of something commercially successful too. It's the only movie seen by many people that can generate interest in revising the director's previous work and, who knows, maybe other national pieces.