This gripping crime drama (winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Academy Awards) is the first film from Argentina I’ve seen. I definitely would like to watch more.
“A guy can change anything. His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change. He can’t change his passion…”
The movie begins with Benjamin (Ricardo Darín), a retired crime investigator, who suffers from writer’s block as he attempts to write his first novel. It becomes obvious later on that the novel is his attempt to exorcise the memories of a brutal crime that’s haunted him for 25 years, the rape and murder of a young schoolteacher. He tries a soft and sentimental approach, then a shocking and explicit one, both fail. Benjamin then visits his former superior, Irene (Soledad Villamil), to discuss the case and show her the draft. From the way they look at each other it’s pretty obvious that these two have History.
The film cuts between the past and the present, deftly weaving together the two strands of the story: the murder case investigation and the simmering unresolved emotions between Benjamin and Irene. Benjamin is smitten from their very first meeting, but remains tongue-tied; he’s a working-class policeman with a modest pay and she’s an unattainable patrician beauty who’s recently graduated from a posh university. Other than Irene, Benjamin’s key relationships in the film are with his assistant, a drunk who occasionally cuts through the alcoholic fog to deliver a shrewd insight (and bizarrely made me think of Argentinian Steve Carell), and the husband of the murdered woman, whose life has been warped by the obsessive search for justice.
That justice in the 1970s Buenos Aires is elusive is hinted early on in the film, when Benjamin’s professional rival “solves” the case by beating a confession out of two innocent immigrant workers. While Argentina’s murky political past is not the focus of the film, man does it hit hard when it comes to the forefront.
Visually the movie grabbed me straight away with its warm, rich colours, and other than a couple of scenes where it looked a bit off the ageing make-up looked superb; if it wasn’t for the past scenes I’d never have guessed the actors’ real age. The entire cast is excellent but Ricardo Darín really stands out; I’m a sucker for faces that are immensely watchable despite not being classically handsome. The ending was peculiar in that I thought there were at least five moments when the film could have ended and felt emotionally satisfying. It’s not to say that it outstayed its welcome or dragged things out or cheated, it’s more that it kept on peeling off the layers and revealing more and more secrets. One of these endings probably would have felt too over-the-top if it didn’t tie in so strongly with the recurring themes of the movie. As it was it felt like something Edgar Allan Poe would have been proud to come up with.
By the sounds of it, the American remake doesn’t seem worth checking out.