THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES ****1/2
When The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year, there was an audible gasp from my film geek colleagues – and I was completely floored. Critical opinion (my own included) had so declared that the Oscar would go to either Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon or Jaques Audiard’s A Prophet, the Palme D’Or and Grand Prix winners at Cannes respectively, that the other three nominees were rendered inconsequential. The trouble was that none of us had seen the other three, and The Secret In Their Eyes was among them, and with very good reason. It is a superb film, an incredibly rich and moving crime thriller telling a story both in the present and twenty-five years in the past, utilising the streets of Buenos Aires to maximum effect and deploying some of Argentina’s finest actors. Ricardo Darin (the elder conman in the very successful 2000 film Nine Queens) plays Benjamin Esposito, a recently retired judicial investigator who decides, in retirement, to write a novel based on the twenty-five year old case that still haunts him – that of a rape and murder. In doing so, he seeks the counsel of his old boss, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villami) who is still employed, now as a judge. To reveal more of the plot would be a crime; what’s important to know is that the movie transcends its crime-novel beginnings (much like the wonderful film version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and resonates as much emotionally as viscerally. Never sordid, gratuitous or dishonest, this is a thoroughly satisfying, big-meal of a movie for adults to savour.
THE STONING OF SORAYA M. ***
Cyrus Nowrasteh’s film, based on a true story from 1986, seems designed to polarise audiences, and indeed it has been, as it has travelled the world, festival to festival and cinema to cinema. It tells the story of Soraya (an exceptional Mozhan Marno) a wife and mother in a small Iranian town, who is falsely accused by her husband of adultery so that he may get rid of her in favour of a teenage girl. And get rid of her he does (there’s a big clue in the title). Relentless in its depiction of the brutal act (and I mean relentless, though comparisons with The Passion of the Christ are over the top), some will find this film distasteful in the extreme, while others will be tremendously moved by it, and indeed, perhaps, called into some form of action, which is obviously the filmmaker’s hope. Polemical, didactic and aggressive, the film’s flaws lay in it depictions of the men of the village, particularly Soraya’s husband and the corrupt local mayor and mullah, who are all portrayed as scheming, one-dimensional villains who don’t just lack respect for women but despise them. But then, I have never been to a village like the one portrayed in the film, and stonings continue to occur throughout the world on a regular basis, so perhaps these are accurate portrayals. You’ll definitely need to make up your own mind; I was shocked, angered and moved, and found the film’s message and outrage more than made up for its deficiencies.