The Secret in their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Oyos) Juan Campanella (Argentina 2009) Soledad Villamil; Ricardo Darin
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 20 Aug 2010; Ticket price £7.50
The cocked leg shot that says it all
For me it was the cocked leg shot that gave Juan Campanella’s film away. The cocked leg shot revealed that the ambition of The Secret in Their Eyes (SITE) was limited to being a filmically inept piece of soap opera. The shot takes place early in the movie in the first (1970’s) section of the time spanning narrative. Prosecuting magistrate Benjamin attends a scene of crime where the battered body of the raped and murdered young woman lies face up on the floor of her bedroom. Given the title of the movie we don’t really need to see the body. Nevertheless we see the body. JJC might suggest we have to see her body to understand Benjamin’s outrage. We certainly don’t need to see it either so often or so long as the camera drifts across her belly breasts and face. JCC might suggest: that’s the movies, the audience want to gaze.
What is false in the scene of crime shot is the posture of the body. The woman’s body lies in the narrow channel between her double bed and the wall. If as natural her whole body lay prone in this restricted space it would be photographically uninteresting. Not cinamatagraphic. To resolve this issue, JJC decided to pose the dead woman’s body so that her legs are cocked up on the bed. The body in this position has a dynamic line but it’s a position at variance with the violence of her assault and death. The cocked leg position of the cadaver is a theatrical contrivance to improve the quality of the audience’s gaze and a calculated manipulation by JCC to secure the gaze. His cocked legs shot is a piece of fakery the characterises SITE as surely as the crumbling talc beneath the eyes of the cast which is supposed to signify their ageing. The moral starting point of SITE the shock of a beautiful life destroyed is founded convenience and contrivence.
Viewing JJC’s movie it’s clear why SITE clinched best foreign movie in this year’s 2010 Oscars. It’s a calling card film from a director who wants to show that he can make Hollywood product. Michael Haneka’s co-nominated film, The White Ribbon was European in form and style with a sensibility independent of and indifferent to Hollywood values. JJC chimes with the Tinsletown vibes. SITE is characterised by: mechanical plot driven action, laboriously contrived romantic subplot with a smattering of political correctness and political comment, dialogue comprising one liners cod philosophy and street wise obscenity; and actors required to span 25 years so caked in plaster and talc that their faces almost come off.
Characterised by Hollywood style production values, SITE comprises complete filmic bankruptcy, an expressive capitulation of film form to TV standards.
The narrative of SITE relies on a series of TV plot devices rather than dynamics of structure to develop the film. Devices involving the dead woman’s family photos and the coded references embedded in a letter written home, drive the film, not character world or moral issues. Likewise the manner in which JJC has shot SITE is in replication of soap opera motifs. There are two prime shot ideas: the laborious use of shot followed by reverse shot to cover the dialogue; and the use of long affect images of eyes staring out of make-up caked faces to convey the emoting without words. The problem I had with these shots is, not only are they repetitious seemingly used by JC when he didn’t know what else to do. They are also used manipulatively to tease the romantic sub plot rather than as a expressed perception.
Benjamin is writing a novel about real events in his past: recasting fact as fiction. SITE’s use of flashbacks is crude but also confusing: some flashbacks may be actual and some fictive from the writing of Benjamin. At the beck and call of a banal plot line JJC is not in sufficient control of the structure of his film to be able exploit this fact /fiction potential in the material, which is simply left irresolvable. In the best Hollywood tradition of abandoning initial structures that prove too complex for movies whose main purpose is the simple manipulation of the audience.
SITE is I think about a state of mind: regret, regret for what is lost. But JJC film approaches regret from the exteriority of faciality: big on faces. There are few expressive long shots in SITE and JJC is unable through the vocabulary of his film to do more than go through the motions of replicating the stereotypical idea of what regret is supposed to look like. JJC is unable to transform regret into a language of relations, or place or interiority. We gaze on the regret as we look on the only expressive device JCC uses in the movie to mediate his expressive message: the Big Close Up.
Perhaps it is because they are so heavily made up, but the main protagonists seem lifeless and overburdened with their roles. Perhaps it was the direction of JJC . The performances seemed to me to be leaden and over directed evincing a series of monodimensional responses. For me there was nothing of thinking in the acting. nothing of the creative. Only doing and playing to camera with an affected elusive look. Running more than two hours SITE the actors long exhausted their expressive play.