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Film draws from Argentine original but deviates for Hollywood ending, film expert says

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

LAWRENCE — The American remake of “Secret in Their Eyes” keeps with the Argentine original in its focus on a failed justice system. But the newer version, which opens in theaters Friday, Nov. 20, follows a more traditional Hollywood narrative to the end, says an expert in Latin American cinema.

Tamara Falicov, associate professor of film and media studies, is the author of “The Cinematic Tango: Contemporary Argentine Film” and has written about the original Oscar-winning Argentine thriller “El secreto de sus ojos.”

After watching both films, Falicov said that while the original has a tighter, clearer narrative, the Hollywood version doesn’t disappoint.

“They take a lot of aspects from the original, but they also change it for a U.S. context, which I think is masterfully done,” Falicov said. “It would be great if people could see it and understand that this is a remake from Argentina.”

Wildly successful when released in 2009 and the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, the Argentine movie brought in 2.4 million viewers, which was 45 percent of all audience members that year who went to see Argentine cinema.

“It was the beginning of the big box office boom in Argentina,” Falicov said. “And seeing it again, I can say it has withstood the test of time.”

The Argentine movie travels between present day (2009) and 1974, a time of upheaval for Argentina following the death of President Juan Perón. His wife and vice president, Isabel Perón, gained control of the country, empowering paramilitary right-wing death squads such as the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA). The period was a precursor to Argentina’s “Dirty Wars.”

“The AAA is basically a goon squad that begins a cycle of violence where people are killed for being alleged subversives. And the movie plays on that,” Falicov said.

Editors: Note spoilers below.

The film centers on the brutal murder of a young newlywed woman. The case is assigned to two federal agents, one of whom is romantically interested in the department chief. The killer is discovered but walks free because of government connections.

“The ultimate message of the film is how people have to take matters into their own hands,” Falicov said. “The characters realize the state is absent and not a place for due process and justice.”

For the Argentine audience, the narrative taps into fantasies where criminals who acted with impunity during the country’s violent regimes are given their comeuppance.

The Hollywood remake is set in post-9/11. In this film, the murderer is freed because he is an FBI informant for a mosque terrorist attack.

In the original, the main character is compelled by a sense of societal obligation, a lack of closure to the case and an unrequited love. In the American remake, the motivation is a personal connection to the murder victim. 

While both films focus on a miscarriage of justice and the vigilantism that follows, the heart of the Argentine version is a love story that involves missed opportunity and an ambiguous ending, Falicov said. In Hollywood tradition, Falicov said, the American remake doesn’t leave the audience wondering when the credits roll.

If interested in interviewing Falicov, contact Christine Metz Howard at 785-864-8852 or cmetzhoward@ku.edu.