Friday, September 10

Considering "El Secreto De Sus Ojos"

Bozeman has a single movie theater that dependably plays all wide releases. This is a vast improvement over Nairobi. This is not an improvement over Spokane where one could choose between four major, one second-run and one independent single-screen theater. But Bozeman opened yesterday its annual film festival, and that's cool cool, even if all of the slated films have already played at the Magic Lantern or are playing there now.

The Bozeman Film Festival began with the Argentine El Secreto De Sus Ojos, winner of this year's foreign language Oscar. This victory was apparently something of a surprise against France and Germany's entries, Un Prophète and Das Weiße Band. Having not seen it but very eager to do so, I can't speak for Prophète, but Band, despite gorgeous black and white imagery, left me cold and sad with its view askance at a small village and the violence of parents and children it obscures. I don't quite know what others found so deserving about it.

I do feel confident, though, in saying that, controversy aside, Ojos was a film deserving of this award. It does so much excellently. The acting is excellent. Every character through the lead Benjamin Esposito through to the hopeless alcoholic Pablo Sandoval to Ricardo Morales, the husband grieving for his young murdered wife is distinct and resonates. The cinematography is excellent. The shot composition in conversations gives them gravity, and there is the magnificent sequence that begins with a pan across a soccer field, moving into a chase scene that begins amidst jumping Racing fans and passes through a bathroom and the stadium's concrete hallways, ending on the field when the suspect is clipped to the ground by a charging player. It is the greatest long shot I have seen since Children of Men.

I have only a single complaint with Ojos, and it is, unfortunately, a significant one. The plot progresses on parallel tracks. Since retiring from civil service, Esposito has struggled to write a novel about a rape, murder case over twenty years old. This is the better of the tracks. The procedural is comparable in the best way to David Fincher's Zodiac. Evidence is accrued, efforts are stymied, suspects are discovered, justice and the lack thereof is made.

On the other track, Esposito pursues, both in the past and present, Soledad Villamil, a former supervisor at the courts. She is his passion, the one thing about himself that he can never change. Near every character who has met the two of them comments on this as well as the impossibility of a relationship between the two of them, though both desire it. I have never held much truck with the romantic conception of the One, the only person another could ever truly love. Attraction, admiration, lust, these things I can understand at first meeting, but they diminish. To remain strong over decades, even after other marriages, affairs and children, hints at something like obsession and does not seem quite healthy. To end with something like a declaration of love and request for either an affair or divorce on Villamil's part, just sort of sours the rest for me.

It must be said that some familiarity with Argentina is necessary to wholly understand and appreciate the film. For at least half of the film I thought that Villamil was Esposito's secretary, but it turns out the man telling her to sort files was just a sexist dick. I guess, too, that Argentina in the seventies thought that Chicago had the right concept of law and justice in the twenties.

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