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Originally published Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'The Secret in Their Eyes': Argentine thriller muses on time and memory

The Argentine movie "The Secret in Their Eyes" ("El Secreto de Sus Ojos") recently won an Academy Award for best foreign-language film. Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald writes that the honor was well deserved.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'The Secret in Their Eyes,' with Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Guillermo Francella, Javier Godino. Written and directed by Juan José Campanella, from a screenplay by Eduardo Sacheri and Campanella, based on Sacheri's novel "La pregunta de sus ojos." 129 minutes. Rated R for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language. In Spanish with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.

"I don't know if it's a memory or a memory of a memory I'm left with," says a young widower (Pablo Rago) in Juan José Campanella's mesmerizing thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes." He's talking about the way the dead stay with us yet fade around the edges, until we're not sure what's real and what we've embellished. Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), a Buenos Aires criminal investigator turned would-be writer, is having the same problem: His novel, based on a long-ago crime, keeps bumping up against the limits of his memory, and against the way he wished the story had turned out.

"The Secret in Their Eyes," which won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film earlier this year, likewise keeps us wondering, switching back and forth from flashbacks to present, filtering its story through a character's eyes. The crime haunting Esposito is a brutal 1974 rape and murder; 25 years later, he's still remembering the beautiful young victim and her devastated husband. And he's remembering Irene (Soledad Villamil), his colleague at the time with whom he fell in love. She's now a judge, and Esposito's long been alone; will visiting Irene, ostensibly to find closure by revisiting the case, change another story as well? Or will they — in both cases — reopen what should stay closed?

Though the story occasionally seems a little too convenient to be true — people and things (such as a ribbon-tied stash of letters) tend to turn up exactly where they're supposed to — it doesn't matter a whit, as the filmmaking is so skilled. One sequence, as Esposito and his partner chase a suspect in a soccer stadium, is dazzling; a large-scale cat-and-mouse caught in a weirdly lovely yellow light. In another, Campanella chooses not to let us hear a crucial, devastating conversation between two men in a crowded train station; instead we just see their reactions, which has the unexpected effect of making the scene even more moving. And another train-station scene, seen both as a passage in Esposito's novel and in his life, has the faded, blurry quality of memory, of something held onto so tightly it's begun to fray. Everyone's eyes have secrets in this story; you'll watch them closely, barely daring to blink.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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