Of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at last month's Oscars, The White Ribbon was the only one most Americans had seen or heard of. That's because the Academy has its stupid policy of choosing not from the foreign movies that actually played here, but by asking each nation to submit a state approved title. This year's winner, The Secret in Their Eyes, hails from Argentina, and like The White Ribbon, it's a period murder mystery tale.
Hoping to write a novel based on a case from 25 years ago, a retired Buenos Aires investigator (Ricardo Darin) asks his former boss (Soledad Villamil), who is now the local district attorney, for help. As the story alternates between past and present (the timeline is irritatingly inconsistent and ultimately irrelevant) it emerges that these two may once have been involved. The Secret in Their Eyes definitely has its winsome leads going for it, but aside from a handful of memorable set pieces, including a mid-game manhunt inside a packed soccer stadium, it's a banal love story.
That's not to say it's a bad film, just a mediocre one. Yet it's impossible not to keep comparing it to better films—whether a vanquished Oscar opponent like The White Ribbon, a superior 2009 Argentinian export like A Headless Woman, or Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, another historical homicidal puzzler. Notably, those films all eschew the kind of happy ending and neat resolution The Secret in Their Eyes triumphantly arrives at. There's a reason this picture won an Oscar.
Opens April 16