Cinematic Perfection

There are few movies that I would consider perfect, flawless. The Godfather, and its sequel. Seven Samurai.  Das Boot. All of them are perfect because they tell compelling stories about what it is to be human, what it is to be alive. One of my favourites, one that I’ve watched more than a dozen times since I bought the Blu-Ray, is The Secret in Their Eyes, a film from Argentina that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 2009.

Simply put, this film tells two overlapping stories: a retired legal counselor from Buenos Aires looking back on the biggest mystery of his career (the rape and murder of a young woman), which at the same time compels him to re-examine the “love that got away.” It also tells us about the young husband of the murder victim, and how he deals with loss, grief and the desire for justice. The film jumps back and forth between the “present” and the criminal investigation twenty-five years earlier, in 1974.

Most of the film is subdued and subtle, sometimes quite heavy, but with moments of humour to lift us from the tragedy. Only at two points are viewers drawn to the edge of their seats. There is an exciting and tense middle section (a kind of visual fulcrum) where the main suspect is captured in a crowded soccer stadium in the middle of a tense match between rival teams. And then, the climactic conclusion, where we see how justice has played out over the course of 25 years.

We also see the story of two different men: Benjamin, the retired counselor, a man in love with Irene, his superior, and Ricardo Morales, who has lost the love of his life to a senseless act of violence. Each one of them dealing with questions of love and justice, both of them finding different ways around the questions.

In my mind, the film is perfectly cast, filmed and scored. Listening to the director’s commentary on the Blu-Ray, you are shown the motivations behind the casting decisions, the choice of camera angles, and even the colour palette of the film. You see the film as if watching a painter create a masterpiece. I’m actually watching it as I write this and am having trouble taking my eyes off the screen. Stunning.

A final word about the Blu-Ray version of this film (it may also apply to the DVD version). It has one minor flaw, but also one thing that sets it apart from all other movies I’ve watched at home. The flaw is that the main menu can’t be accessed directly. You have to skip through four separate previews for other movies. An annoying but minor inconvenience.

What sets it apart from other films on DVD/Blu-Ray is the main menu screen. The menu itself is fairly simple. But, the way music and graphics are used is quite amazing. A brief piece of the soundtrack (one of the main themes that runs throughout the film) combines with a series of brief clips from the film and is perfectly, seamlessly looped. Actually, loop is the wrong word. To me, it feels more like a Möbius strip. It’s one of the only movies out there that, if you fall asleep watching it, won’t wake you up with annoying loud music or flashy graphics when it goes to the main menu at the end.

The themes of this film are common. Things like lost love, unrequited love, the desire for justice. What sets it apart is the way in which it was created. Watching it, you see that it was made with care and love, by artists wanting to create something beautiful. And succeeding almost beyond what they could dream of or hope for.

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