'The Secret in Their Eyes': The Humor's Lost in Translation

The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film is entertaining, but can everyone keep up?


Sony Pictures Classics

While you will enjoy The Secret in Their Eyes as I did, it could have been much better. As I stood at the door waiting for the next performance of the Argentinian film to begin, I asked those leaving the theater what they thought of the movie. The responses were "brilliant," "outstanding," and "wonderful." One woman said she didn't think I would enjoy it to the fullest, because I wouldn't understand the colloquialisms. She was right. The audience clearly consisted of a Spanish-speaking contingent that laughed out loud on a number of occasions when the English subtitles conveyed nothing humorous.

The film, located in or near Buenos Aires, contains a number of flashbacks not clearly identified as such so there is some confusion. It takes place in the early era of the Peron fascist dictatorship. While Eva and Juan Peron are not depicted in the film, the presence of a dictatorship is displayed by the actions of police bureaucracy in a rape and murder case.

Shortly into the movie, a very graphic rape occurs. The woman pleads for her assailant to stop, but he continues and ultimately kills her. The murderer is not identified and the case is closed until a detective, Benjamin (Ricardo Darin), decides to write a book on the unsolved murder over the objections of the police department. Benjamin's former superior, Irene (Soledad Villamil), a rich, cultured and beautiful woman who is in love with him, decides to help. So too does his very funny, alcoholic buddy, Sandoval (Guillermo Francella).

How they identify the murderer, pursue him, and get him to confess to the crime is fascinating as it unfolds. The corruption of the police department by the fascist government of the Perons causes Benjamin to leave the city and go into hiding for 25 years before returning to Irene and her bewitching smile. When the couple reunites, they appear not to have aged during their years apart. More of Eva and Juan Peron and the impact of fascism on the society would have added to the movie. Nevertheless, it is a good ride, but not a great one.

Henry Stern said:

This movie was reasonably entertaining. It deserves the Academy Award it won for best foreign film the way Barack Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

The film jumps backward and forward in time. It mixes tragedy, drama, comedy and farce, which shows it does not take itself too seriously. Everyone Else ended so abruptly that I thought the director ran out of film. This movie was the opposite. There were about five fades to black before the credits began to roll.

The protagonist is an obsessed schlemiel until he turns out to be right. His sidekick is a pitiful drunk, one of the few remaining stereotypes that can be ridiculed.