In 1998, I took off for half a year to live in Spain, the hallowed place I'd dwelled in 10 years prior during a semester study-abroad program with my college. The first time around I'd lived in Granada, home of the sublimely romantic Alhambra, but this time I wanted to experience the sweltering chaos of Sevilla. Granted, Sevilla is sublime in its own right, with its majestic cathedral and lusciously labyrinthine streets. But live there long enough (hell, a mere six months will do the trick), and you'll learn that the city is a sauna in the summer, and anarchically disorganized year round. It is a joyously disorienting city that you'd be insane to inhabit for very long.
During my Sevilla sojourn, I saw many movies at the "Version Original" cinema - one that showed movies in their original language. I loved that theatre because it gave me a chance to see movies in English while reading the Spanish subtitles, thus enabling me to fully comprehend the film with the side benefit of honing my Spanish skills.
Of course, not all such films originated in Hollywood or an English-speaking country. One such movie was Secretos del Corazon, a Spanish film. I attended this movie with my (monolingual) Spanish friend Miguel, who attempted to fill in the gaps when my comprehension lapsed. I was a good Spanish speaker, but as anyone who has learned a second or third language knows, there are all sorts of idiomatic idiosyncrasies that are difficult to absorb without prolonged exposure to the language.
But the movie blew me away despite any linguistic challenges I encountered. It is visually poetic and the acting is subliminally enchanting. Indeed, even though at times I only vaguely grasped the film's highly nuanced elements, Secretos Del Corazon haunted me for 12 years after I saw it. Then one day recently, I decided I couldn't endure it anymore, and I bought the film online. The import pricetag was certainly not prohibitive, but it wasn't as affordable as most movies either. However, I knew it would be a worthwhile purchase.
The movie's indelible solidity lies in its ethereality. The articulate performances - the film centers on a child protagonist, who conveys an incongruous mixture of aching innocence and precocious sagacity with his wide-eyed gaze – merged with superbly incandescent imagery, make this a magically mesmerizing movie.
Javi, the film's young lead, is a nine-year old growing up in rather baffling circumstances. His father's untimely death is shrouded in secrecy, and yet Javi is keen to penetrate the mystery. Intuition informs him that the world of adults is less-than-saintly, and yet he doesn't quite know what lurks within the impurity...just that something is very awry.
Javi's older brother is a source of some comfort for him, as is one of his aunts, although her own secrecy is also the genesis of another form of betrayal. And of course, Javi’s brother’s wisdom is curtailed by his own youthfulness, and tempered by a feisty contrariness.
The film’s spiderweb symbolism has the potential to be an overwrought device, and yet it is skillfully employed to poetic effect. It appears gracefully throughout the movie to parallel Javi’s progression from befuddled innocence to jaded enlightenment. It not only signifies the comvoluted situations that often entangle adults, but it acts as gossamer emblem for human fragility.
Secretos del Corazon captivatingly captures pre-adolescent yearning for demystification. It allows us to inhabit our coveted childhood again, with all its strangely exhilarating groping and probing and pesky puzzles and riddles. And by the end of the film, we are rooting for Javi to stay rooted in his guileless gullibility, since the predicaments we face in adulthood are infinitely more insufferable than the enigmas we endure as children.