I can see why this was best foreign language film at the Oscars, and given the tough competition it faced (White Ribbon and A Prophet, both excellent movies), it had to be especially great to win best picture.

It definitely was. So good, it’s easily one of the best pictures of the year.

The movie is told in flashback: in 1999, a retired criminal counselor, Benjamin Esposito, decides to write a novel, about a case that affected him the most, the Morales case. A young woman is raped and killed in 1974, and the counselor, along with his functioning drunk assistant Pablo, and his new female boss, Irene, investigate the crime, bringing their focus on a mutual friend of the slain woman and her young husband. Work is slow, both on the case and on the novel, but everything is revealed in meticulous detail.

This is a rare example, at least to me, of a damn near perfect movie. This is primarily plot driven: the characters react to the events around them. Nothing is preposterous or far fetched. Everything makes sense, which is quite hard to do, especially in a plot driven film. All of the characters are well rounded: Benjamin is struck to help in any way possible by Ricardo, the young woman’s husband.  He sees the love they shared through the photographs and in his eyes.

The eyes, it seems, play an important part throughout the film.  Irene betrays her own feelings through her eyes.  The killer is reveal by what his eyes see in old photographs.  Much of what is shown is through every characters’ eyes: their secrets, their deepest thoughts and desires.

The movie, in part, is a romance as well (the main poster reveals it as such), between Benjamin and Irene.  Much of it is told through the flashback as well, and their inability to do anything about it.  It becomes dangerous too when the killer is found.  What happens after that is heartbreaking, for all characters.

It’s all part of the intricate details that make this film exceed far beyond any expectations. The film is beautifully shot, with many long takes placed throughout the film. The best one is a sequence during a soccer match: eight minutes long, and while several shots were spliced to make this one continuous shot, it’s hard to tell where the splicing took place. The effect is both frantic and mesmerizing.

There was one particular item I looked back upon a day or two after seeing the movie, which helps serves as a book ending theme for the movie. Benjamin wakes from a dream one night and quickly scratches down a single word: “I fear” (the Spanish is one word). This word is brought back only twice more: once in conversation, and once near the end, when almost everything is nearly resolved. At that point, Benjamin adds one letter, which changes the word entirely, so much so that it brings the movie around thematically. I won’t spoil the world, but given how the movie played out (between the romance and the murder), the slight change brings a new meaning to the lives of the characters. We live in fear, but what can reduce fear? It’s brilliant.

A modern day masterpiece, if I can say. Dense and intricate, plausible and beautiful. I’ll say it again: easily one of the best films of 2010, if not the best so far.

A

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