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'Secrets' And Lies Drive An Oscar-Worthy Thriller

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'Secrets' And Lies Drive An Oscar-Worthy Thriller

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'Secrets' And Lies Drive An Oscar-Worthy Thriller

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. This year's Academy Awards may seem like a distant memory, but one of the Oscar winners is just opening in American theaters today.

The Argentine thriller, "The Secrets in their Eyes," took the prize for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out the favorites, "The White Ribbon" and "A Prophet." Bob Mondello says "The Secret in Their Eyes" is a murder mystery with a political twist.

BOB MONDELLO: Argentina's supreme court, lawyers and judges striding briskly through the halls, as Benjamin Esposito, a one-time criminal investigator returns to his old stomping grounds. Ben's stride is now a trifle halting, his hair streaked with gray, but his eyes sparkle when he sees Irene, a judge he worked with, and carried a torch for, some 25 years earlier.

He's here to chat about a novel he's writing, and when he tells her what it's about, it stops her cold.

(Soundbite of film, "The Secrets in Their Eyes")

Mr. RICARDO DARIN (Actor): (Benjamin Esposito) (Speaking foreign language).

MONDELLO: The Morales case. Ben's investigation in the mid-1970s of a brutal rape and murder led both him and Irene, who was then his boss, down dark judicial alleyways that got darker and more dangerous the further they went: in flashbacks, trumped-up charges, forced confessions, political interference and a killer still on the loose until Ben tracked him one day to a soccer stadium.

(Soundbite of film, "The Secrets in Their Eyes")

(Soundbite of soccer game)

MONDELLO: The camera chases the suspect deep into the bowels of the stadium, catches up with him, crashes into walls with him, leaps over banisters with him. It's a terrific chase sequence, and as Ben will explore when he writes his novel many years later, it's also the start of a decades-long nightmare.

Writer-director Juan Jose Campanella leaps around in time, using the aftermath of this one sadistic murder case to expose not just law-enforcement shortcomings but fault lines in Argentine society: official pressure to let go and forget, countered by a stubborn personal quest for justice.

Since the flashbacks take place just before Argentina was brutalized by a military dictatorship, a time of death squads that's been seared into the nation's memory, the quest for justice is sort of a given for Argentine audiences. And while American viewers don't start with the same reference point, Campanella has directed quite a few episodes of "Law & Order," so he's just the guy to fill us in: paranoia, a political underworld that prizes criminality.

"The Secret in Their Eyes" finds secrets everywhere, even in what's driving Ben and Irene as they separately examine the decisions they made all those years ago. Neither was an open book, but Ben has now written one, and Irene has some edits. For both of them and for their country, accurate remembrance is important. You can see it in their eyes.

I'm Bob Mondello.

SIEGEL: And at npr.org, you can hear my conversation with director Juan Jose Campanella about the making of the film.

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