Monday, February 3, 2014

A World Beyond Hollywood - Part I

Ricardo Morales: If you keep going over the past, you're going to end up with a thousand pasts and no future.

I have gotten back to watching foreign language cinema only recently, I devoured close to half a dozen movies last weekend, and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I feel different, for that is what some movies do to you, they fill in a vacancy inside of you, and yet, at the same time leave you asking for more. I had stopped experimenting with foreign movies close to five years back when I was introduced to American television that required just an hour of investment, and was equally rewarding with engaging story lines and compelling characters.

As I had exhausted the best ones in my hard disk and was left with only the B grade shows, and with Hollywood churning out big budget blockbuster that required a viewing in the movie theaters, I looked to breathe some life into my old fetish for watching foreign language thrillers. I scourged the internet for thrillers recommended by movie lovers, and came across two cerebrally and emotionally charged movies made by countries from either side of the Indian Ocean, Argentina and South Korea.

My first part of this two-part review will deal with a taut, and edge-of-the seat drama released in the year 2009.

I had seen the French prison drama Un Prophete a couple of years back, and had unwittingly assumed it to have won the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language film, for it was a raw and violent story of a juvenile convict who grows on to be a mafia kingpin. I had never bothered to check IMDB for the details, for, Un Prophete was that good. The jury obviously had a different winner in mind, a deep, emotionally charged Argentinian drama, The Secret In Their Eyes, this was one of those rare moments where the jury was right. But you couldn’t blame them if they were wrong too, because the competition in Foreign Language category was that tough in 2010.

There are some stories that you take along with yourself long after the end-credits have rolled, long after you have closed a book and placed it in your shelf. There are some stories you fall in love with such intense fervor, that once it is over, you cannot hold yourself back from sharing it with someone. The pain and the pleasure of watching such stories leave an indelible impression on you, an experience that you’d get over only if you wrote about it for others to read, or told about it to others so that they could experience the same.

The Secret In Their Eyes is such story of a legal counselor, Benjamin Esposito. Retired from the legal profession for more than twenty years, he begins to write a novel about that one case that still haunts him, a case that had changed his life forever, a brutal rape and murder of a young newly-married wife. His journey down memory lane reintroduces him to his then boss, Irene Mendez Hastings, a woman for whom he had harbored feelings that went unreciprocated. As Esposito gets back in touch with the proverbial one-that-got-away, he begins to question the decisions he’d then made, both personally and professionally. Juan Jose Campanella , the director, takes us on an intense ride that travels between the past and the present and leaves us emotionally spent by the time the door shuts down on us.

TSITE isn’t just a murder mystery, but it is a tale of a man who grapples with the choices he had made in his past, while trying to go about finding the answers to the questions that are plaguing his present.  It is a story about second chances, and of hope. Seldom have we come across murder mysteries that are less about the murder and more about the life of the ones who are embroiled in it. TSITE is that one rare film that not just takes us into the lives and psyches and principles of those involved in it, but also, introduces us into the petty politics and class system that make the deliverance of justice that harder in their society. 

The actors are solid and make you relate to their plight, and the chemistry between Esposito and Hastings while strong and could be felt in the air, never gets the best of the two by going predictably overboard. Campanella’s pacing never makes you feel that there are any dull moments in this thriller, no words are wasted, no scene seems overdone. And the big reveal that unravels slowly and delicately like a Christmas present, is that final punch to the guts that would knock you out of your senses and leave you breathless. The Secret In Their Eyes has in its title a sense of foreboding, and much like its haunting name, the movie will stay long with you once you are done with it.

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