Tag Archives: Goya awards

Movie Review: The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

As far as I can recall, the last film I awarded 5-stars was the Japanese film Okuribito (aka Departures), which won the Best Foreign Film category at the 2009 Oscars.  So I was understandably excited when I attended the screening of the Argentine film El secreto de sus ojos (English title: The Secret in Their Eyes), the 2010 Oscars’ Best Foreign Film winner.

While The Secret in Their Eyes was ultimately not a 5-star film in my opinion, and despite not having seen any of the other nominees in the category, I do think it is a worthy Oscar winner.

The Secret in Their Eyes won Best Spanish Language Foreign Film at the Goya Awards in 2009, and it’s easy to see why.  The film, directed by Juan J Campanella, is fascinating, compelling and complex.  From the script to the direction to the performances, the entire production oozes class and style.

It tells the story of a recently retired federal justice agent, Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darin), who is writing a novel about a 25-year-old rape and murder case (back in 1974) that continues to haunt him.  The film moves back and forth between the past and the “present” (ie 1999) as Darin’s investigations lead him down a path that will change his life forever.

The core plot of The Secret in Their Eyes is very strong, but there are also plenty of intriguing subplots revolving around Espósito’s life — such as his alcoholic partner Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) and his boss Irene Menéndez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil), the woman he longs for but can’t have.  And of course, there is the escalating political violence in Buenos Aires brewing in the background the entire time.

The performances from the three leads are impeccable, but special mention is reserved for Pablo Rago, who plays the grieving husband Morales, and Javier Gudino, who gives a chilling performance as the prime suspect Gomez.  While neither dominates screen time, these two characters anchor the most dramatic scenes throughout the film.

Speaking of dramatic scenes, there is a masterful 5-minute sequence in a football stadium that is all filmed in one long take.

Having praised the film, there are some complaints.  The first, and my main gripe, is that the film could have been tighter.  The pace is steady, although there were times when I felt a conversation outstayed its welcome or a scene dragged on for too long.  There was also a slight tendency for repetition to bring out character traits (eg Sandoval) that did get a bit tedious eventually.  If these things were finessed a little to bring the running time down from a long 127 minutes to a more manageable 115-120, the film would have been even better.

Secondly, The Secret in Their Eyes stretches the believability factor far more than it should.  There are quite a few coincidences and unlikely occurrences that have to be tolerated in order for the film to work.  To be honest, it didn’t bother me too much but I can understand it if others thought it was too fanciful.

Thirdly, just a small complaint about the make-up to convey the 25-year age difference.  It wasn’t bad, but it could have been a lot better, especially for the leads (who mainly just changed hair styles and colour).

The Secret in Their Eyes doesn’t have a premise or story that will necessarily blow anyone away, but for the most part, it is a mesmerizing, satisfying experience.  It knows when to push the right buttons and how to create the right atmosphere, whether it is brutality, fear, tension, creepiness, excitement, loneliness, love, hate, or pain.  There is an abundance of powerful imagery and memorable dialogue to go along with its messages about our lives and memories, meaning it will likely be one of those films that will resonate long after you have walked out of the cinema.

4.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Orphanage (2007)

Most of the posters for this film are very disappointing, but this Spanish one's not too bad

I’m a sucker for supernatural thrillers, and for the last couple of years I kept hearing about this Spanish film called El Orfanato (The Orphanage), the debut feature of director Juan Antonio Bayona, and produced by his good friend Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and soon, The Hobbit).

I finally got around to watching it, and admittedly, the hype is justified.

The Orphanage tells the tale of a woman who returns with her husband and son to her childhood home, an orphanage, which they intend to turn into a home for disabled kids.  Needless to say, stuff happens.  I don’t think it’s a premise I’ve seen before, but I’m sure it feels familiar.

Three things that tend to be common in ghost movies: big old house, weird noises and creepy children.  The Orphanage ticks all three boxes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s going to be a formulaic, predictable horror.  The Orphanage is multiple notches above your average supernatural story for a variety of reasons.

First, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy.  It’s a film that builds up the tension gradually, using a combination of eerie stories and spooky moments.  It unsettles you, makes you feel uncomfortable.  It rarely relies on the cheaps scares that plague horror films these days.  There are also some clever tricks that I won’t divulge, but they are freaking terrifying.  There are a couple of scenes in particular that are classics in my opinion, and they always give me chills when I think about them.

Second, you actually give a crap about the characters.  Laura, the mother and the main lead, is exceptionally played by Spanish actress Belen Rueda.  You feel her pain, her fears, and her desperation.  Rueda makes her a flesh and blood, believable character you care about.  The father, Carlos, played by Fernando Cayo, has less to do here, but he has his moments too in a subtle, controlled performance.

Third, it’s a great story!  Given the premise I described above, it would have been easy for the film to collapse into your run-of-the-mill haunted house story, but there is so much more to it.  There is mystery, intrigue, twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming.

In a way, The Orphanage shouldn’t even really be called a “horror” as that downplays the dramatic aspects of the film.  I think the main reason the movie has done so well (won 7 Goya awards) is because of how emotional and heartbreaking it is, in a way you don’t expect horror movies to be.

Watch it before the obligatory Hollywood remake comes out! (New Line has already acquired the rights)

4.5 stars out of 5!