“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

This, the first sentence in the book The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley describes perfectly for me the mood of the Argentinean movie The Secret in Their Eyes.

For one, it takes place in Argentina, a foreign country, literally. Because it was filmed in Spanish, has English subtitles. But the “foreign” quality of the film cannot be translated so easily. The formal way the characters address each other, the constant swearing in their speech, the frustrating bureaucracy that blocks the investigation show a world that is genuinely different to the one we are used to see in the movies reflecting life in the USA. And because of that even more fascinating.

Also, part of the movie takes place in the past (1974) where a right-wing government controls in subtle ways (the political situation of the country is never mentioned directly) what happens in the screen.

Both a crime investigation and a love story, perhaps two, The Secret in Their Eyes starts in 1999 as Benjamin Esposito, a criminal court employee just retired, struggles to set to paper the events surrounding the rape and murder of a beautiful young woman and his role in the investigation that followed. To bring the story into focus, he visits his former boss, Irene, the woman he has loved since they first met. Irene, now a judge, had an important role in covering for Benjamin’s unorthodox attempts to solve the murder and is, we see as the story unfolds, also deeply in love with Benjamin. Things didn’t turn out well for them in the past. Will writing the story release the ghosts that have haunted them since?

Being a writer I totally relate to Benjamin’s frustration at his inability to start his story. And I love the part when, still half asleep, he writes two words in a piece of paper, an idea he has just struck him as important, only to be unable to understand its meaning next morning. The reason being that he wrote ‘temo’ (I fear) when he meant ‘Te amo’ (I love you). A mistake that, like many of the situations in the movie, does not translate well.

The Secret in Their Eyes won an Oscar this year for Best Foreign Film. Well deserved, in my opinion.