The Secret in Their Eyes
Coverage by Nobuhiro Hosoki
Story : Benjamin, a retired court employee, decides to write a book about an old rape/murder case that he believes wasn't properly solved. He becomes determined to find the real culprit and reopen the case - a complicated and thrilling quest that director Juan Jose Campanella depicts with a style that effortlessly juggles romance, comedy, suspense and political commentary. Reception following in the Egyptian courtyard.
Opens April 16, 2010
Runtime:2 hr. 0 min.
Interview with Director Juan Jose Campanella
(Q): What inspired you to create this?
(Juan Jose Campanella): It’s based on a novel, actually, so that’s what inspired me; the novel. I co-wrote the script with the original author of the novel [Eduardo Sacheri] and we made a lot of changes. From the moment that I read it as a reader, because I was a fan of his work, until the moment that I decided to make the adaptation was like a year went by. And I found through the year the basic aspects of the story kept coming back to me, but I also added things that I was interested in.
For example, the female character was not part of the case at all in the novel and now their relationship is a main part of it. None of that was in the novel. She’s a person who works in the court who he always loved in silence, but she never had any part in the story at all. And that was a thing that made me realize that if the murder case was the origin of their love, was the trigger of their love and also the thing that stopped it, then the two stories were integrated. And that’s when we decided to start working on it. I told the novelist that this is what I wanted to do and he liked the idea of riffing with his novel, so we went for it.
(Q): Did the novel end pretty much the way the film ended? They know they’re in love with each other.
Juan Jose Campanella): Yeah the moment when he’s going up the stairs of the court to talk to her. But the other story ends very differently. First of all, the other story still ends in the past; it doesn’t end in the present. When he’s writing the novel it’s in the 2000s so he knows everything that happened. We can’t put this in because it would be revealing the ending, but he finds the two of them dead.
He gets a letter from Morales telling him come, this is where I’m living, please come visit me, and when he gets there he finds Morales killed himself because he had a terminal illness, and he finds also the corpse of the guy in the cage, and he buries them both and he leaves. And 10 years later he writes the novel.
(Q): One of the fascinating things was the stadium sequences. I heard that you took a long time shooting and setting it up. Could you take us through that process?
(Juan Jose Campanella): The shooting was actually not that long; it was three days, three shooting days. The post-production was about nine months.
(Q): Yeah, that’s what I heard.
(Juan Jose Campanella): Yes. Because you know, as a producer once told me, I could do things well, cheap, and fast; pick any two. So well and cheap is slow because we didn’t have much money to make it, so we were about 15 people working on it for almost nine months. It’s obviously not one take from the helicopter to the bleachers – you have to have a transition there – but it’s really invisible. They worked very hard at it.
(Q): That was not in the book either, correct?
(Juan Jose Campanella): No.
(Q): What gave you the audacity to put this crazy scene right in the middle of the film?
(Juan Jose Campanella): Bringing her character to the foreground and making her part of the whole thing was part of the thematic thread that I was interested in adding to the movie, which was the passion thread. Everything in the movie, even the crying [possibly crime?] is motivated by passion; a perverted passion, but it’s motivated by passion. That’s why I wanted to find the guy, not because he left any clues or because of finger prints or DNA or anything like that, just because of his passion.
The decision of making it in one shot, I have very little time to make the audience feel the adrenaline of that chase, which is a foot chase when it comes to it. We’ve seen it a thousand times in series, in “Starsky & Hutch,” every week they were running after a guy. So I stared with a convention that we all have in our minds of starting with the aerial shot of a stadium, but also we have the convention of at a certain point you cut to the audience.
So when you’re not cutting and you’re not cutting and you go and you go closer to the audience, it’s funny, you’re in the theater and the audience starts going like this is the seat. It’s really the effect as if you’re being thrown into the bleachers and you’re there with them and you’re part of the chase. Then it becomes personal and that makes it more exciting than it would have been if we just had guys running after each other. And once you’re committed to that then you can’t break the point of view ever.
(Q): Having “A Prophet” and “The White Ribbon” as your main competitors, were you surprised to get an Oscar?
(Juan Jose Campanella): The thing is that there was a buffer. A week before, 10 days before, I was sure that “The White Ribbon” was going to win. When we got the nomination I hadn’t seen “The White Ribbon,” but mostly based on how much I admire Haneke, and if I hadn’t been involved I would have wanted him to win, and how much I admire his previous work and the fact that he had won almost every possible award. So I was very relaxed; I took the nomination as an honor and I thought there’s no chance we’ll win and I was fine.
I never thought about it. But about a week or 10 days before many blogs and magazines like “Entertainment Weekly” and everybody were saying what’s happening in the screenings is people are liking the movie very much and it has a chance and they’re talking, and they’re talking, and they’re talking. I became a nervous wreck; I couldn’t sleep anymore and I went there thinking we were in the running actually. So of course I was surprised, but it didn’t take me out of the blue because there was that week of a buffer there.
(Q): What about the Argentinean reaction? Was it like defeated Brazil in football?
(Juan Jose Campanella): It wasn’t that big, but it was bigger than you would expect. It was 1:30 in the morning in Buenos Aires when they announced it and people tell me that you could hear the screaming from the apartments. And it was quite crazy; this last week was quite crazy.
(Q): Because it was the only other film that has won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, other than “The Official Story,” from 1985. I don’t know how you felt about that or that reaction, that feeling.
(Juan Jose Campanella): I was nominated before in 2002 with “Son of the Bride,” and we did not have this reaction. I don’t know what happened with this movie. Maybe, like in soccer, when you believe in the team, when you like the team you root more for it, and this movie was a huge hit in Argentina, it struck a chord. I don’t know which chord, so don’t ask me that, but it struck a chord because it was the most successful movie in 35 years. People were so ready for it that I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t won.
(Q): Talk a little bit about finding that intersection between passion and politics, and passion and love, and trying to find that balance. You follow the movie and you are amazed that it all comes together.
(Juan Jose Campanella): It’s all in the script. Like with “Son of the Bride,” I like mixing many ingredients in the meal. But it’s all in the script stage, because then when we get to the shoot all you can do is to act everything as if it were real, the reality of it. I don’t know how it works here but in Argentina people laugh a lot in the movie and the actors never played for laughs, they never played for comedy. When the guy scares him, when they go in to read the letters and the guy scares him, usually maybe in a film noir you would have Bogart going, “huh?” In real life we were saying you would jump and hit the ceiling in a situation like that, and I think that people relate to the truth of that moment.
When someone scares me a lot I insult them for 10 minutes because it’s like 10 minutes it takes me. So I was telling Ricardo, you just keep telling him “Fuck you! Fuck you!” when he tries to relax. And I think that people relate to the real reactions of characters; they’re not film reactions to what’s happening. I think in a way that’s the only secret in it; that people don’t have movie reactions but they have a movie premise. How many of us actually saw a rape/murder, but it’s a typical premise, it’s basically how every “SVU” episode starts, and then you have real people in it.
(Q): And making it about Argentina as opposed to an American film? Why do you keep coming back to it?
(Juan Jose Campanella): Because it’s my voice. As a writer I’ve mastered that language; I know the music of it, I know the nuances. And in a way, even when the original is truer, even when reading subtitles I find that even when people read subtitles in a different language they laugh more than if I had written the same thing in English. I think that the performance comes out. We all trained with subtitles, I mean I grew up with subtitles, we don’t adapt films in Argentina, so even the more mainstream films we see with subtitles since we were kids, and we put it together immediately.
(Q): The atmosphere is unusual and I was surprised to see how close they are. They are supposed to have a formal relationship. In American they are competing in the courtroom. Here it’s like we are family; they exchange jokes. Is it just exaggerating the reality a little bit?
(Juan Jose Campanella): No, not at all. In fact, I had to bring it down. I swear to god. When I read the book I had never been into the court palace, as we call it, in my life. In a very Argentine, bragging way we call it the palace. My sister had worked there from ’79 until 2005, when she retired, and she knows it by heart and she knows all her dinosaur friends that were there from the ‘60s and they’ve become a family. This is what I use as an example for people in Argentina: imagine if all the journalists in America worked in one building; it’s like that. The entire justice system of Argentina is in that building.
(Q): So one bomb and they’re gone.
JJC: Exactly. When I read the book and I saw these characters picking up the phone and always saying something different I told the writer that I find that it’s a stretch. He worked there five years and he said, “Believe me. There was a guy, in five years I never heard him saying ‘Court.’” So I get together with my sister and her old, retired friends, and we go to a restaurant and I said okay, start telling me stories. I cannot tell you; there were things I could never put in the movie. There was a judge once that because he lost a bet, for three days he had to take positions and meetings and all that with a woman’s wig and be very straight faced.
People would come crying, crimes and all that, and he had to have a woman’s wig. There was another thing that we put in the script and we ended up cutting it out: for two years there was someone attacking people and they never knew who it was. People would show up with a string of toilet paper on their neck, and there was somebody obviously so skillful that you would never notice, and then 10 minutes later someone would tell you that you have a string of toilet paper on your neck.
We had it so that everybody all through the past and the present, we would have that and we realized at the end that it was Irene that was doing it from the very beginning. It’s too cute; it can only happen in reality. We had to cut out a lot of that. It’s a lot of feelings like in an ICU unit; I think the defense that people have is dark humor and laughing at these things.
(Q): It seems like they’re very light-hearted, like they have a good time while they’re doing their job.
(Juan Jose Campanella): Well they’re doing their job, and actually they are very affected by this crime in a way. That was another thing; I feel that in movies we’re used to seeing people see these corpses and not being affected at all, and I think that in real life it would be something that would be very shocking.
(Q): I was curious about the cinematography and about the political atmosphere of Argentina at the time. The way the film is shot it’s these muted colors that give it very much a dated look, as it’s supposed to. But I had read that you were saying how the film is set in ’74, ’75, right before things changed in the country. I just wanted to know how the film might relate to that time.
(Juan Jose Campanella): In terms of the color, actually I wonder what print you saw, because it’s supposed to have very bold colors in the past and it’s muted in the present. When you’re remembering something you tend to forget details and you only remember the bold strokes. So maybe your mother’s room in the house that you grew up in was a green room, and you remember that as a green room. It had 10 different colors, but you remember one color.
So that’s why if you go into any set, since it’s all coming from this guy’s memory, there’s a very dominant color and a very strong color. In the present, memory has no part, everything is the same, so it’s very muted and de-saturated and without any charm, in a way. Now, the political context; that’s another change. In the novel the whole past respects the real time of the justice system, so the crime takes place in 1968 and he escapes to Jujuy in 1976.
In the movie we couldn’t afford having eight changes of fashion and looks and everything, and I also thought that it would be reducing the tension. So we decided for these two years, the years before it was a democratic government, that because it was a perceived threat of terrorism in Argentina, they started taking the liberties one by one until they started with death squads to eliminate terrorists, and it took the people working at the justice system by surprise.
If we had chosen the dictatorship that started in 1976, everyone would know exactly what the deal was; they would never go and try to complain to someone how can you free this guy. They were very domesticated at that time already. So we chose to show the time of democracy, when the obliterating of the personal liberties began without people noticing. We thought it was also more relevant to what’s happening today.
(Q): Can you talk about your own experience at that time? You were a college student.
(Juan Jose Campanella): No, I was a high school student in that time. I’m 50; I was 15 at that time.
(Q): When did these atrocities start to become known to people?
(Juan Jose Campanella): They became known to people when democracy came back in 1983. They had a complete stronghold; there was no internet and they had a complete stronghold on tv and print, so you knew exactly what you were told. Think; the numbers of people that were disappeared, it’s estimated to be 30,000. In a 30 million people country that’s still 0.1%, so it’s not something that everybody was talking about. You knew that there were shootings, but you didn’t know about the torturing and the concentration camps and the most awful, Middle Age things that happened in that time.
(Q): Could you talk about the process of casting? They have a past and a present and you have most of them played by the same actor and actress.
(Juan Jose Campanella): There was no process in casting him [Ricardo Darín]; he was in the movie from the moment that I started to read the book. His picture came to me immediately and we’d made three movies before, so I said perfect, it streamlines the process. He’s the lead in “Son of the Bride” too. And with her [Soledad Villamil] also, we worked in a movie before. In terms of the aging, we decided to play the present in 1999 because of that.
The first versions of the script were in present day but then the characters would have been too old, or too young in the past, and it was impossible to make up. Actually he plays 65 and 40, more or less, in the movie, and you look at photos of men in the ‘70s and people looked older than today. 40 was the old 50. And she plays from 25, 24 to 48, something like that, and actually we didn’t have to do much with the actress because she’s 40 in real life.
We added something in the neck, very subtle, and sort of assumed what she would look like in eight years and we didn’t have to do much to her. Ricardo’s face is full of latex in the present. It’s very well done; you don’t notice it.
(Q): How much does your TV experience effect or help your filmmaking and influence your filmmaking?
(Juan Jose Campanella): I’ve been asked that question a lot until I figured out an answer to that.
(Q): Your point about “Law & Order,” it’s what you’re interested in I think.
(Juan Jose Campanella): In terms of the subject matter, yes it does. First of all, they don’t hire people to direct tv who don’t already know how to direct. It’s a hard job to get; it took me many years to get it. Also I’m sure that everything that you do makes you grow in some way. It’s like writing a novel, writing an essay, how much the essay helps you as a novelist, and I think that they go hand in hand.
But the truth is that when you make a movie for the big, wide screen it’s very different the way it’s shot than the way you do it for the tv screen. Also, the behavior of the characters was very different here than it is in the series. Obviously I think that there must be some kind of pacing or rhythm, that it becomes second nature, but also in that sense I think a movie is a little slower paced than a tv show is. There’s a lot of silence and in a tv show we try not to have a lot of silent moments. There are many differences.
(Q): In creating this character, what was it in particular that sparked your interest? I love how he’s able to hold the guy captive. But then again, it was about the love interest in the woman and the man, so what in particular was it?
(Juan Jose Campanella): There were many things that I like about the basic story when I read the novel. One of them was the silent love through the ages; that I was immediately interested in. And coming from many shows, the fact that a guy can go in and see a corpse; it’s a life changing experience that will throw you in a different direction. Their relationship, that was not in the novel but that’s what I added later, the relationship with the woman through the years. And then yes, the character of Morales was very fascinating to me because it’s a very ambivalent character.
On one side this guy’s passionate enough to dedicate his life to put this guy in jail and be in jail with him – he’s not portrayed as a hero at all – out of the love of the woman that he lost. But on the other hand, he’s a very cerebral and cold person who can plan this thing, who can carry this thing out, who doesn’t tell a soul for 25 years, so he’s very methodical on one side and very passionate on another one.
He was the character that was the hardest to decide on how to act because a character like this couldn’t be crying all the time; that’s why some people suspect that he’s the murderer at one point, because he seems a bit too cold. But this is a character that immediately goes into solving mode. When she called the mother of the guy he has a notebook in his hand to write down information. He’s an extremely methodical person.
(Q): I thought when he was speaking on the phone to somebody who was in his wife’s hometown he couldn’t keep it together on the phone. He kept trying to hold back crying.
(Juan Jose Campanella): Exactly. And that’s the only moment where you see him breaking.
(Q): Can you just tell us what you’re doing next?
(Juan Jose Campanella): Right now I’m working on an animated movie, of all things. Completely different. The working title is “Foosball,” but it’s a working title; it’s not going to be called that.