El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) (2009)




Director:      Juan José Campanella.

Starring:     Soledad Villamil (Irene Menéndez Hastings), Ricardo Darín (Benjamín Esposito), Carla Quevedo (Liliana Coloto), Pablo Rago (Ricardo Morales), Javier Godino (Isidoro Gómez), Babara Palladino (Chica Piropo), Rudy Romano (Ordóñez), Alejandro Abelenda (Pinche Mariano), Mario Alarcón (Juez Fortuna Lacalle), Guillermo Francella (Pablo Sandoval), Sebastián Blanco (Pinche Tino), Mariano Argento (Romano), José Luis Gioia (Báez - Inspector), Juan José Ortíz (Agente Cardozo), Kiko Cerone (Molinari).

legal problems for pursuing justice in fascist Argentina



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Two curse words below.

A woman named Irene is waiting at the platform at the railway station.  Benjamín Esposito is walking to get on a train.  Liliana watches him get on the train.  As the train pulls out Liliana runs along side the window where Esposito is sitting until the train leaves the station platform behind. 

The retired deputy clerk is trying to write a novel.  He destroys his first page and starts:  "On June 21st, 1974, Ricardo Morales had breakfast with Liliana Coloto for the last time.  For the rest of his life he'd remember every single detail of that morning.  Planning their first vacation, drinking tea with lemon for his nagging cough, with his usual lump and a half of sugar."      

Scenes of the rape of a girl named Liliana come into the judge's head.  (Violence, rape and brief nudity.)  He gives up on his writing for the day and goes to bed.

The next morning the now retired judge goes to see a woman judge named Irene in the courthouse.  The judge is happy to see him and is in a good mood, that is, until Esposito says that he wants to write a novel about the Morales case.  She doesn't say a word about the case, but she does give Esposito an old typewriter. 

Flashback.  A judge introduces Irene Menendez Hastings, fresh out of Harvard, to Esposito.  She tells him that she is out of Cornell, not Harvard.  Irene will be the new clerk.  Behind Esposito, Pablo Sandoval, deputy clerk, stands up and says he is a deputy clerk. 

Esposito is put on a murder and rape case.  He objects saying that it is not his turn.  Another judge, however, tells him that strictly speaking it is his turn. 

Esposito meets with the inspector. As they walk to the murder scene Esposito is still complaining that it's not his turn, that he shouldn't be on this case.  Suddenly, he stops talking   He sees the murder victim laying on the floor with her two lower legs still on the bed.  The inspector says that this is Liliana Coloto, 23 years old and a teacher.  She was just recently wed to Ricardo Morales, a bank clerk.  The inspector tells Esposito that he is going to talk with the husband and Esposito says immediately that he is going with the inspector. 

The two men go to see Morales at his place of work.  He indicates that he didn't see anyone suspicious around his apartment.  And, yes, he and his wife had a routine where he would come home from work each lunch time.

Back in the law offices, clerk Ramano tells Esposito that the Morales case has been solved.  It was the two builders working in apartment number 3 who killed and raped the woman.  Their names are Jacinto Caceres, Bolivian, 35 years of age and Juan Robles, 34.  Esposito goes down to the precinct and is told by the clerk that the two guys already confessed to the crime.  The clerk and the sergeant try to discourage Esposito from talking to the two men, but Esposito insists.  He talks to the two men and notices that they have blood on them as a result of being roughed up. 

Back at the law offices, Esposito pushes Ramano hard.  He says Romano arrested two nobodies and he is going to file a complaint.  Although the two men in question have brown skin, Romano refers to them as two low lives and adds that no one cares about either of the accused.   

Esposito asks one of the police officers where is his colleague Sandoval and the policeman tells him he is eating down Talcahuano street.  Sandoval is a bit drunk.  Esposito tries to drop him off at his wife's house, but she won't take him in, so he takes Sandoval to his own place and lets him sleep on the couch.  Esposito looks at pictures of Liliana. 

Esposito goes to the apartment of Morales.  He looks through a scrap book seeing pictures of Liliana and Ricardo.  He keeps seeing this one fellow appear in photos of Liliana and asks Ricardo the guy's name.  It's Isidoro Gomez. 

Back to the present.  Esposito talks with Judge Menendez Hastings about the Morales case. 

Flashback.    Morales calls the number he has for Isidoro Gomez. A woman answers and tells him that the fellow no longer lives here.  Gomez said he was working now in Montevideo.  She also tells Morales that Isidoro was crazy over that girl Liliana. Morales starts crying and hangs up on the woman. 

The inspector and Esposito go to the work site to speak with Isidoro.  The fellow didn't come into work, so the inspector gets his address from the boss.  The investigators now go to Isidoro's apartment.  It is empty.  Isidoro got a phone call yesterday and left the apartment in a big hurry. 

Back at the law offices, Judge Fortuna Lacalle tells Esposito to forget that Esposito case.  He is not going to do the paper work necessary to issue a request in Chivilcoy where Liliana grew up. 

Esposito goes to see Sandoval who is again drinking at the bar.  He tells Sandoval that the only person he can trust is a drunk, namely Sandoval himself.  Sandoval and Esposito go to Chivilcoy.  Theywait in the car until the old lady Gomez comes out onto the street walking with her Jack Russell terrier.  Esposito goes into the woman's house.  He checks her drawers and other places looking for letters from her son.  One of the letters is recent.  He looks for an envelope in the garbage but doesn't find one.

The woman suddenly comes home and the terrier keeps barking.  When she disappears around a corner Esposito and Sandoval start running away with the terrier right behind them.  The dog bites Esposito and he kicks the dog backwards in order to get away from him. 

On the drive back home Sandoval tells his friend that he took one of the letters from the house.  Esposito gets very mad at him, saying that the old lady will notice it and tell Gomez and then Gomez will disappear for good.

When the guys get back to the office, Irene tells them that Judge Lacalle wants to speak with them.  The judge says that a colleague of his in Chivilcoy called him to tell him that two of the judge's employees were down in Chivilcoy.  Esposito says the man must be mistaken, but the judge says he has the license plate number and the color and type of car owned by Esposito. 

After the judge balls them out, Irene balls out Esposito. She says they never even told her they were going to Chivilcoy.  Esposito asks if she too is against them?  She says Esposito has got to get it straight --  she is the boss and he is her employee,.  

Sandoval goes over the letter he snatched, but has to tell Esposito that there are no real leads in the letter.  Irene comes in and asks Esposito to come to her office.  She tells Esposito that she talked with the judge, told him Esposito is an idiot and got him out of trouble both here and in Chivilcoy.  Esposito thanks her.  Then she spoils it all by telling him to give her the case file of Liliana for she is going to close it and put it in the archives.  Esposito's face is filled with shock and disapproval and she tells him that the case is closed. 

Back to the present.  Esposito continues talking to Irene.  He says that he still remembers that a week after Chivilcoy she brought her boy friend Alfonso, now her husband, in to introduce him as her fiancée.  She is still married to Alfonso and has children.  She tells Esposito that  his case is not for her.  He is looking backward, while she always looks forward.  She gets up, kisses Esposito on the forehead and leaves.

Flashback.  Esposito runs into Morales at the train station.  He tells Esposito that after working at the bank, he watches people coming in and out from the train station hoping to spot Isidoro. 

Esposito comes in to see Irene.  A little later Sandoval comes in, per Esposito's request.  Esposito explains about seeing Morales at the railway and talks about the man's love for Liliana  -- a love that is "unaffected by the wear and tear of the routine."  They want to help this love-sick guy and they ask her to re-open the case.  Irene says they are asking her to commit fraud.  Sandoval likes the idea, Irene doesn't. 

Esposito look for a pile of letters that was on his desk.  He goes and finds Sandoval drinking in a bar/restaurant.  Esposito accuses him of stealing evidence. Sandoval tells him to sit down.  He has discovered something.  Sandoval takes Esposito over to a fellow who knows everything about soccer.  The names mentioned in the letters are names of Argentinean soccer players.

So the guys go to the soccer stadium.  Esposito tells his colleague that there are too many people here to find one particular man.  But they do find the man.  They call out the name Isidoro Gomezto and whoever runs, that's their.  And sure enough a man starts running at the mention of his name. The two fellows chase after him.  They tell the police that they found their man and he's around here somewhere.  Sandoval finds him in the men's room, but the guy is young and bursts past both Sandoval and Esposito. He runs right into the police, turns around and jumps down over a wall and sprains his ankle.  He runs out onto the field and gets knocked down by a soccer player.  Now the police grab him. 

Esposito tells Irene that they immediately have to get in there with Isidoro and question him.  She says they can't question a prisoner with no lawyer or judge present.  Esposito gets in regardless of what Irene tells him.  Isidoro tells Esposito that he had nothing to do with the killing of Liliana.  She was a childhood friend of his.  He says he would never do that. Irene comes in and she wants to try something.  She starts belittling the suspect.  She says he is too short to be seen with such a beautiful girl as Liliana.  For instance, the report says that the rapist was well-endowed, while this man has a mini for sure, and that even she herself is too much of a woman for a little punk like him.  The guy gets up and pulls his penis out to show her and he says that he fucked the shit out of her.  Then he slugs Irene.  The policeman in the room grabs the suspect. 

Esposito tells Ricardo Morales that they have Isidoro in jail.  Morales hugs Esposito upon hearing the news. 

At night Irene telephones Esposito and tells him that when he is finished with the novel, she wants to read it.  Esposito is happy to hear that. 

On the television, the talk is of the morning at the presidential residence in Olivos.  The wife of the president, Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, is interviewed.  Morales telephones Esposito and asks him to turn up the volume on his television so he can hear the president's wife. 

The next morning Esposito and Irene bust in on Romano in his office talking with two men.  Irene says that Isidoro was pardoned by executive order.  Why?  Romano says that Isidoro worked for the government as a spy on young guerrillas and he did great work.  Romano goes on to say that what Isidoro did in his private life is his own business.  He adds that there is nothing either Irene or Esposito can do about it.  Romano tells Irene that they didn't teach her about the new Argentina there in Harvard, did they?  He goes on to say that while Irene is untouchable, Esposito certainly is not.  He tells Esposito that Irene is way too far out of his league.     

Esposito tells Irene that they should go.  They get into an elevator, but at the last second a man gets on the elevator.  He takes out a pistol and makes sure he has ammunition in his clip.  But then he gets off at another floor.  He looks at the two of them as the door closes.  They take this as a warning that they can be killed if they get in the way of the government. 

Now Esposito has to tell Morales that Isidoro gets off without any punishment and there is nothing anyone can do about it.  Morales thanks Esposito for everything the deputy did for him and leaves. 

Esposito doesn't talk to Irene for awhile.  Irene comes to Esposito and asks when he will talk to her again?  She says she is not untouchable.  Esposito tells her to just drop the subject because she is getting married to her fiancée.  She asks Esposito isn't he jealous?  Doesn't he want to make any objections?  --  he should make objections.  She says they will meet in a restaurant and discuss all his objections with her. 

Esposito has to go get his drunk friend Sandoval out of trouble for fighting in the bar.  He takes Sandoval home with him again.  He goes to see his wife and convinces her to come get her husband.  When they return, they find Sandoval with an extremely bloody shirt dead on on a bed.  It looks like Sandoval was assassinated. 

Irene sends Esposito away to Jujuy for his own protection.  She says:  "My cousins are like feudal lords there.  Nobody will touch you."   Esposito doesn't want to leave Buenos Aires, but Irene asks him what can they do here?  Nothing, she says.  Esposito gets up very close to Irene and he almost kisses her.  Irene seems to want him to kiss her, but he pulls away and says goodbye. 

Irene watches as Esposito gets on the train headed for Jujuy.  She runs alongside the train and his compartment.  He puts his hand flat against the window and Irene puts her hand in the same place from the outside.

Back to the present.  Irene finishes reading Esposito's novel.  He tells her it's a rough draft.  She complains that the ending is just not believable.  The woman crying and chasing the train and the man all broken up?  It's not believable.  Esposito says but that is the way it actually happened.  She asks:  "If that's what happened, why didn't you take me with you?"  He has no answer.  She tells him he is a:  "Dimwit."  She says it's a terrible ending.  Esposito asks if he should have put in the book that she married someone else and had two kids?  She says he could put in the book that he married a Jujuyan princess.  Esposito agrees that the end is crap. 

It was 25 years ago, but Esposito goes out to see Morales.  Ricardo tells Esposito that he never married.  Esposito tells him that he married, but it didn't last.  He has one last question for Ricardo:  "How did you learn to live without Liliana? . . . How did you start over?"  He keeps asking him how could he live with Liliana dead and her murderer still alive?  Ricardo gets mad at Esposito and tells him to leave his house.  Before he leaves the house, Esposito tells Ricardo that Gomez didn't kill Sandoval. 

Flashback.  Three men bust into the room where Sandoval was sleeping.  The biggest fellow asks if he is Esposito?  Sandoval says that he is Esposito.  Then Sandoval is killed by the assassins. 

Back to the present.  After hearing the story Morales tells Esposito to sit down.  He tells Esposito that he knew they would be coming for Gomez some day, so he kept a watch on the bad guys.  And one day he does see Gomez.  He waits for night and knocks out Gomez on the street.  He then puts him in the truck of his car.  He drives to a deserted spot and when a train passes he opens the trunk and shoots Gomez over and over again.  Morales then got rid of the body and apparently no one has missed the guy since.  Esposito asks him if it was worth it?  Morales answers who cares?  His wife is dead, Sandoval is dead and now Gomez is dead.  So forget about it.  He says that he owed Esposito one for what he did for him and Liliana, but now they are even. 

Esposito leaves, but he comes back at night and watches Ricardo's house.  Ricardo comes out and goes around his house.  Esposito follows him around to the back of the house.  He opens the door and sees a jail cell.  Inside the cell is Gomez, who asks Esposito to tell Morales to at least speak to him.   He then moves away from the bars of the cell.  Morales reminds Esposito that the man would have gotten life in prison.  So, this is justice.  Morales walks away. 

Esposito places flowers at the tomb of Sandoval. 

The next day he goes in to see Irene.  He tells her that he has something to tell her.  She says it will be complicated.  Esposito says he doesn't care.  Irene now gets a big smile on her face.  She tells Esposito to close the door and he does so. 


Spoiler Warning.  Very good film.  There is not a lot of history in it, except the historical background is important for understanding the film.  The second wife of the now deceased fascist Peron is in power and the government is still run like a fascist state.  The government uses spies and death squads to keep the government in power.   A deputy clerk of the court named Esposito does the research on the rape and  murder of a young, beautiful woman named Liliana (wife of Ricardo Morales).  He tries to figure out who is the murderer, but the judge over him suspiciously keeps telling him to drop the case.  When Esposito and his colleague find the killer and he is arrested, the man is set free by an executive order.  And there is nothing Esposito can do about it because of the corruption of the fascist government.  Esposito himself is threatened with death by the fascists.  The death squad manages to kill Esposito's friend Sandoval in a case of mistaken identity.  The story doesn't end here.  25 years later Esposito is writing a novel based on the Morales case and wants to find out what happened to the real killer of Liliana.  So he has a hunch that Ricardo Morales may know where Gomez is.  He suspects that Morales may have killed the murderous fellow Gomez.  Esposito finally finds out when he watches the house of Morales.  He discovers that Gomez is still alive.  He lives in a small cell in the back of Ricardo's house.  (The punishment is worse than prison for Gomez because Morales never speaks to him, so he lives in solitary confinement, which is mentally deteriorating.)

I enjoyed the film, but not the love story.  In terms of emotional intelligence, what an idiot that Esposito was.  Ricardo Darin was great as Esposito. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1973 (October) -- 1974 (June)  --  reign of President Juan Domingo Perón.

1974 (June)  -  1976 (March)  --  the reign of President Isabel Martínez de Perón (following the death of her husband Juan Peron).

1976-1981  --  reign of military dictatorship under Jorge Rafael Videla. 

1981-1983  --  reign of military dictatorship under three presidents (Videla, Viola, Bignone). 


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