DVDTalk sits down with Juan Jose Campanella
If you haven't heard of The Secret in Their Eyes that's quite understandable. But you probably heard of a film coming out of nowhere and defeating both The White Ribbon and A Prophet at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture. While those two truly great films were the favorites, they couldn't have lost to a better opponent. The Secret in Their Eyes is nothing but excellent and deserving of its praise.
Director Juan Jose Campanella is responsible for this piece of greatness and he was kind enough to discuss some of the film's themes, the Beethoven influence, and an incredible long take that creates one of the most exciting chase scenes in recent memory. If you've already seen the film, you'll enjoy what Campanella had to say. If you haven't, The Secret in Their Eyes is now in theaters and you should do yourself and see it.
DVD Talk: A big theme of the film is obviously fear and how did that play into your decision setting this before the days of dictatorship?
Campanella: Yeah, in the novel the whole past part of the story actually really represented the time of the justice system. The crime took place in 1968 and he was escaping on the the train in 1976 during the dictatorship. The two years we chose to represent in the film were not mentioned in the novel. We decided for it to take place in this time for several reasons. One, I was much more interested in how this reality hit the characters for the first time. If it had been the time of the dictatorship they wouldn't have been surprised by it. When the dictatorship was in place the justice system already wasn't good. This was the time where it was all beginning. Also, I really wanted to analyze it a bit more. I really wanted to touch on both times with the democratic government where you're giving up your rights slowly. I felt that was more relevant to today. You don't need a dictatorship for your liberties to be taken away. Thirdly, it was really a time that hasn't been touched on in movies before.
DVD Talk: When you see Chief Benjamin in the early days he's obviously trying to solve the case and when you see him in present day he's trying to figure out his life. Was that parallel originally from the book?
Campanella: Well, indirectly. We really did want for the present to have its own objective. He's not just being a guy remembering things. Actually, the whole motivation for him to embark on this is to figure out why he's alone in his life. It's for a more personal inner motivation instead of about finding money or something like that. He starts to remember all this because he wants to know what brought him to this.
DVD Talk: I love how when you see Chief Bejamin at the beginning though he's kind of a slimy guy. He's not the most friendliest or likable. Was there ever any idea to perhaps make him more likable?
Campanella: No, no, no. This is something that is very American in terms of when you work a script...
DVD Talk: Just as a disclaimer, I am not someone who needs a character to be likable. He just needs to be interesting.
Campanella: Exactly and he also just needs to be real. Some human miseries are apart of that reality. I think that you empathize with him because he's real. When you cast Ricardo it's difficult for him not to be likable. He's bullet proof.
DVD Talk: I love that line he has about how when he was having dinner he realized he didn't like himself. That's obviously a very sad thing to say. What do you think brought him to that realization?
Campanella: Well, it's funny that you touched on that. You're the only one who's touched on that. From the moment I read the novel to wanting to make the movie a year went by. The image that kept coming to my mind was an old man having dinner by himself. Perhaps it also dealt with my father who died in 2006 and every time I went to meet him he was having dinner by himself. It broke my heart (laughs). Older woman always get together. Old men are always alone (laughs). I don't know why that is, but those old men have problems when it comes to creating relationships. That image was something that stuck with me. Seeing this guy having dinner alone and wondering why all of this happened to him is the reason why he started writing. That's when it clicked I wanted to make the movie.
DVD Talk: Earlier on the film it's hinted at perhaps Morales killed his wife, but did you ever considering playing that up a bit more? It works, but I'm curious if there was ever any thought of perhaps making him a bigger suspect?
Campanella: Yes, of course. Apart of a good crime mystery is that you need more than one suspect (laughs). Morales was the most difficult character when it came to how to play it. This is a guy who is both Jekyll and Hide. He's passionate, but is also ruled by his emotions in a way where it can rule his life. He's also a very cold and calculated person. His mind is always working on different levels.
DVD Talk: He contradicts himself.
Campanella: Exactly. When you see his first scene people think that he doesn't look like he's in that much pain. At that moment he's already thinking about how he's going to catch this guy. He's already in action mode. That of course created the added benefit of making him into a suspect too.
DVD Talk: Did you ever consider ending the film in that final moment with Morales? And do you think he's in the right at the end?
Campanella: We left it open in terms of what Esposito does with that information. We wanted to generate a debated and oh boy was it generated. I always try not to say anything about it, but now I get asked a lot about it. I really don't want to say what I meant in the movie, but I can tell you. To me, Morales is not portrayed in any heroic way. We see these two guys in jail and they're both prisoners. When I shot it I was questioning whether or not I was being too obvious. I was shooting them all through the cage. I was interested in saying in the movie that justice doesn't happen without... If the people who are suppose to submit justice don't these things will happen. This is like with the Rodney King thing. I never supported those riots, but I can understand where they were coming from. They were coming from a very frustrating place with the people who are suppose to administrate justice and yet they don't. Justice is something that humans will always look for. It has to be given by the people who know how to do it. If they drop the ball someone will take it and they don't know how to play (laughs). These things would happen. I wanted to show with Morales a broken and empty man with no soul left.
DVD Talk: Now, when you're treading material like this and posing questions like that you gotta walk a fine line of what to and not to answer...
Campanella: This was a tricky thing. There was a scene that we cut which was a flashback where Espositio is walking to the final revelation. That revelation is the ending and everything else is just an epilogue. I didn't want to have to explain anything at all after that. How much we revealed in the flashbacks was difficult. I didn't want to have a scene dealing with people talking about it forever and ever. Once the movie is done dramatically I think the movie should end as quickly as possible.
DVD Talk: I know you've been asked a lot about this shot, but I gotta commend you on it. The soccer stadium scene with that long take is fantastic. How many takes did you have to do to stitch that together?
Campanella: Yes, it took several takes. In no way am I trying to fool someone that we actually had someone come down from a helicopter and did all that. What we wanted to do there dramatically was very important. I had to do a run and chase that we've seen thousands of times with every Starsky and Hutch episode. I only had five minutes to generate an adrenaline in you. I know we all have an idea of what a stadium looks like. That image is so ingrained. I wanted to start off with a conventional shot and then convert that convention. The cuts are really quick. You get a rush of adrenaline and excitement from that. Also, once we we're in the bleachers I didn't want to break the point-of-view. I wanted it to make you feel as if you were running with them too. If we had done it with cuts it wouldn't have been that powerful. I wanted to do it in a way where even if you have the DVD and go frame by frame you wouldn't notice where we do the cuts. We couldn't go behind someone's back and make the cuts like Hitchcock's Rope. That wouldn't work. We devised shots where all that blending could be done. It has a lot of techniques and it took eight months of post-production.
DVD Talk: Well, it turned out beautifully.
Campanella: Yes, it really works. I'm very happy with it. At one point we thought we couldn't pull it off.
DVD Talk: Now, I heard you say in passing a few months back in an interview about how Beethoven affected the film. Can you explain a little bit more about that?
Campanella: It's funny that you should say that. I was listening to Beethoven all throughout the writing of the script. I really got into that type of structure. I really think that it pays off with having separate themes like music. Completely different and opposing themes like Beethoven. The music in the film was inspired by Beethoven.
DVD Talk: You obviously do a lot of interviews and talk about the film a lot, but is there any aspect of the film you haven't been asked about yet but would like to talk about? This is something I like to ask most filmmakers I talk to.
Campanella: Well, we were just talking about the musical structure and here in America no one has asked me about that. That was something I spoke very little about and it's a very interesting thing to me. I love looking at DVD's with the commentary on learning about the structure of a film so this is stuff I like to talk about.
DVD Talk: So, I'm guessing you enjoy doing interviews? Talking about the creative process? I'd imagine on a film like this it's a bit tougher since you'll get asked about things in the film that pose questions and are intended to be ambiguous.
Campanella: Well, I like to doing interviews especially with people like you. I like getting asked about things where I very rarely get asked about. I don't like to answer for a thousand times, "how did you feel when you got the Oscar?" Those are the kinds of questions that I don't enjoy that much. Questions about how a film is made I love. I guess I'm kind of teacher (laughs).
DVD Talk: Then I guess the big question is: how did you feel when you got your Oscar?
Campanella: Exactly! Oh, my God it was an honor! (laughs)
DVD Talk: It was terrible, right? Who wants an Oscar? (laughs)
Campanella: Exactly, what are you gonna say? Should I say, "oh, I felt like farting on Javier Bardem's face." What else am I going to say? Of course it's a very confusing moment. You feel stunned. I really thought as you opened the conversation that The White Ribbon was going to get it. That day there was an indication we were liked, but I didn't expect it.
DVD Talk: Well, I think when people see the film they'll obviously understand why it won. At best, most people who watch the Oscars have only seen maybe one or two of the films nominated for best foreign picture. Actually, probably none.
Campanella: There's one thing you gotta say about the Oscars is that they really don't give a shit about the previous track record of any movie. People say that the Golden Globes are indicators, but they indicate nothing. A movie may have won thirty awards or nothing... I think they really pick what they like. Thank god they're isolated enough from the rest of the wold that they don't care about that stuff. It's a good thing in that sense. There's about 500 or 600 people voting and they're real professionals. Half of those people are older people who've made some of the best films of all time. Sometimes people complain about the old age of Oscar voters, but I'd much rather get an Oscar from Sidney Lumet than Michael Bay.
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