Sunday, 12 June 2011

El Secreto de sus ojos, The in Their Eyes

At 9 pm over the past five nights I have enjoyed watching a new ITV serial drama called Injustice and yesterday afternoon I watched the Oscar best foreign language award winning Argentinean film, Esecreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their eyes) based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri’s - Le pregunto de sus Ojos (The Question in Their eyes) but which could just as comfortably have been called Justice.

Fifty years ago while studying Criminology as part of a Diploma and Public Administration course at Oxford University I read an essay by John Rawls then professor of Philosophy at Harvard University headed Justice as Fairness and this has governed my thinking about the subject since, although I accept that attempting to define what is fair and not fair is just as difficult as attempting to talk of Justice only in term of the Judicial and Legal system within a national State.

I had no awareness beforehand of just how good the film is and just as Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, one of nine of his novels I have in my library, is the benchmark literary work on the subject, I have elevated this film to the top of my film list because of its depth.

Benjamin Espósito is a retired Federal crime investigator in the capital of Argentina who on retirement decides to write in novel form a case that dominated and changed his life over 25 years previously and he calls at the office of his former boss and now a Judge, Irene Menéndez-Hastings, to tell of his intentions.

In 1974 Espósito was appointed to investigate the rape and murder of a beautiful young woman in her own bedroom and had to advise her husband who works at a Bank what has happened and who it needs to be stressed is never a suspect for the crime. Espósito is as much emotionally affected by the husband’s distress and ongoing love as he is by the rape and murder. Ricardo Morales is the husband is played by one of several actors in this film who can communicate without words.

Espósito works closely with a married alcoholic colleague, Pablo Sandoval, rescuing him from bar bawls, paying off his bar bills and smoothing things with the man’s long suffering wife. They have made little progress when a rival in the agency announces he has caught the perpetrators, two foreign workers on a building site in the immediate area of the crime. Espósito visits the accused and finds that a confession was beaten out of them with no other evidence. The men are released and he attacks the colleague for his behaviour in the court buildings. Having promised the husband that he would find the killer they have a discussion about justice, with the husband saying he is glad there is no death penalty and wants the man to serve a long prison sentence so he can contemplate what he has done and suffer. Espósito says the man will serve life. This is the crucial scene in the film in terms of the issue of justice as retribution.

Without evidence he studies the photos of the young woman taken from her home and notices that in several pictures there is a young man who is always looking longingly at the victim and after talk with the husband learns that this was a former school and college friend from the home town. Thus we have the significance of the film title that our eyes reveal what is inside of us including that we wish to keep secret.

The investigators find that the young man is not living at home and there is no record of his present whereabouts. Benjamin believes he will have kept in contact with his mother by letter and persuades his colleague, Pablo Sandoval, to accompany him to the home town of Chivilcoy where after waiting for the mother to leave her home he breaks into the property. He is spooked when his colleague who is supposed to keep look out comes in and they both are nearly caught as the woman returns and her dog bites him in the leg as they beat a quick retreat. Benjamin has mixed feelings when he learns that his colleague has not only removed the letters but entered a local store to buy a bottle of whisky after saying he had to go for a pee. The consequence is that their car is identified after the woman reports the crime and no doubt warns her son of the intrusion. The two men narrowly escape discipline but the judge overseeing the investigation and who closes the case.

A year after this Benjamin finds grieving widower, Morales, spending every evening after work at the bank keeping watch at the city railway stations in the hope of catching sight of the man he has been told is the likely killer of his wife. Benjamin is so moved by the man’s devotion that he persuades his boss Irene to re-open the case by losing the closure papers of her superior. The two have an attraction but because she comes from a wealthy family, was educated at Harvard as is engaged to a man of similar wealth and society to her family the feelings are restricted to how they look at year other.

Benjamin and Pablo go over the information available and it is Pablo with the help of a drinking companion who spots that the names in the letters refer to players for a particular football team. Pablo makes the point that most men have passions which do not change during their lifetime particularly the football club they support, They begin to attend home games of the club of the players mentioned in the letters and during their fourth visit just when Benjamin is deciding that finding someone in such a large gathering is impossible, the suspect is seen and after a chase is apprehended and taken for questioning. He is broken into an admission by Irene who suggests that his size and demeanour all indicate that he could not be the killer but when she suggests that he does not possess the manhood to have caused the internal injuries noted to the victim he reveals his appendage and hits the accuser. He is tried and convicted and sentenced to life. There is a moving scene when Benjamin tells Morales the news of the arrest at a railway station where he has continued to keep watch. Morales says he is indebted for the culprit being caught.

A year later the husband sees the killer on television as part of a Presidential security detail and Irene and Benjamin investigate what happened. They discover that their colleague with whom Benjamin clashed over the false confession belonged to a political protection security service that was using the killer for break-ins and other illegal work. They are told they can do nothing about the position.

After the meeting the killer comes into their lift and brandishes a weapon. A short time later Benjamin is called to a bar where his friend and colleague Sandoval has been involved in a brawl with the local police called. Espósito smoothes the way once more and take the man home to sober up and then goes for the man’s wife. When they return they find Pablo in a pool of blood having been machined gunned to death under the mistaken impression he was Benjamin. Benjamin notes at the scene that the photos of him in the room have been turned down, evidence that his friend realised the situation and gave his life to protect his friend, Benjamin is forced to leave the capital because once the mistake became known, and the killer Gomez would come after him again.

Twenty five years pass by and after a failed marriage and the formal end of his occupational working life he returns to the capital, still haunted by what happened and with continuing feelings of guilt about the sacrifice of his friend he decides to begin the writing of a novel. This is only half the story of the film, and in once sense as I shall reveal a third in terms of important subjects.

During those two years of the murder investigation and the decision to flee to the provinces he had developed a love for Irene, his boss but because of her engagement, her wealth and social status he made no move despite indications that she reciprocated his feelings and wanted him to take the initiative. That is until the day of the murder of their colleague when they had arranged to meet in secret. Such clashes of interests are true to life and it is a measure of the authenticity of the work and in life that such individuals will do what is right, fair, just in terms of their occupation and the welfare of others, sacrificing their own immediate happiness in doing so.

We witness the various attempts of Benjamin to start his novel, hand written in notebook, but each time he destroys the work and one recurring scene is the departure from the capital seen off by Irene, both broken hearted. Twenty five years later as she reads the first part of the novel she asks why did he not take her with him? They have both led full lives but lives where something was missing, the love that might have been which embraces sexual passion and the intimacy of both able to be their true selves and that depth of communication which needs no words. I once went out for an evening mean with three colleagues and one commented that a nearby table an obviously married couple had sat through the meal without speaking to each other. The colleague expressed sadness at this and indeed such silence can reveal there is nothing more to say to each other that has meaning to them or that a gulf has arisen which they do not know how to bridge or are unable to bridge because they have either matured different or just changed in different ways from each other. However as I commented it can also signal a depth of understanding and comfortableness in the relationship which does not need small talk and gossip to sustain.

As part of his need to exorcise the ghosts of the past he seeks out the whereabouts of Morales and finds that he has moved to the countryside in an isolated property commuting each day to a bank where he has gained promotion. He is unmarried and claims to have put the past behind him and recommends that Benjamin does the same. When Benjamin admits that he is haunted by the failure to put Gomez away and by the death of his colleague Gomez admits that after the death he had staked out Gomez knowing that one day he would make a further attempt on the life of the man who had done his best to achieve justice for the murdered wife. He had killed him and disposed of the body, He insists that Benjamin leaves and that the two have no further contact.
He had got on with his life and Benjamin should do the same.

Benjamin finds this difficult to accept as it undermines he belief in the uniqueness of the man’s love and devotion to his wife, although as will be noted in the TV series drama Injustice, the killing of someone can lead to begging an effective new chapter although the killing will haunt as much as the original cause, unless the killing is undertaken officially be the State or distance can be put between the means and the end. In this instance Benjamin is sufficiently unconvinced that he returns to the property and keeps watch after Morales has returned home from his work at the bank.

Morales come outside the house with some bread and a drink and goes to an outhouse. Benjamin investigates further and finds that the man had indeed captured Gomez but has imprisoned him. When Gomez sees Benjamin he pleads that he should tell Morales to talk to him. Morales maintains his silence of twenty five years and Benjamin walks away but before leaving Morales says that he had said he owed Morales for capturing the man and he had kept their word that the killer would serve life in torment.
Benjamin is emotionally and psychologically freed and able to visit the grave of Pablo for the first time. He completes the novel and as at the beginning of the film we see him entering the office of Irene and they look into each other’s eyes. She says it will be complicated and he agrees. She tells him to close the door behind him. Previously she has always kept the door open. Justice as fairness had been served and rewarded. The film is in Spanish with sub titles but the acting is such that at times the understanding of the language is not necessary to appreciate the greatness of this film.

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