Rojo

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Alfredo Castro in Rojo
"The writer/director casts his net wide, taking inspiration from auteurs like John Boorman and Sam Peckinpah through to freeze-frame moments that could slot straight into TV detective dramas of the time." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Benjamín Naishtat's Rojo is all about what can lie behind a facade of respectability and how appearances can be deceptive. Take its opening moments, for example, when cinematographer Pedro Sotero's camera gazes at the front of a house. It looks like one of hundreds in a middle-class neighbourhood, with its tidy front lawn. But, one after another, a succession of people exit it with household items - a clock here, a picture frame there, a wheelbarrow of goods elsewhere. Like much of the film, it's a darkly funny moment, but also unsettling as we come to consider why the original occupants are no longer resident.

The reason, although never spelled out, is connected to the Argentinian Dirty War and the coup that, in approximately 1975, lies just over the horizon, and which would result in more than 30,000 such 'disappearances' - imagine all those empty houses. So, as we are transported to a restaurant, where local lawyer Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is about to get into an altercation with an argumentative stranger (Diego Cremonesi), which will end in tragedy, we're already beginning to consider what might also lie beneath his magnificent moustache and reputable air. Soon, after a build up of almost unbearable tension, we'll enter thriller territory as a late night trip to the desert leads to a secret that may be tricky to keep.

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This is just the tip of the intrigue, as politics is seen through the lens of a group of touring cowboys, local scams bloom in the absence of on the ground law and order and the younger generation are seen to quickly absorb the possibilities of violence.

Naishtat draws fully on the Seventies in terms of style and a colour palette, which majors in jaundiced beige with occasional 'pops' of red, including an intense solar eclipse scene which drenches everything in crimson. The writer/director casts his net wide, taking inspiration from auteurs like John Boorman and Sam Peckinpah through to freeze-frame moments that could slot straight into TV detective dramas of the time. This is further underlined by the presence of Alfredo Castro, relishing his supporting role, as a Chilean telly detective sent to investigate a disappearance and whose every darkly comic move evokes Columbo right down to a 'one more thing' moment.

Humour may leaven Naishtat's message, but there's no mistaking the seriousness of what lies beneath. There's a wilful ignorance to almost everything and everyone, as those with privilege are all too willing to cast aside their morals in order to gain an advantage, without so much as a backward glance. There's also a sickly sense of not just of corruption at the top, but the way that it can settle on and spread to anyone as easily as a fly might set down to rest its wings.

Reviewed on: 24 Dec 2018
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Rojo packshot
Violence is sparked on the eve of Argentina's dictatorship.

Director: Benjamín Naishtat

Writer: Benjamín Naishtat

Starring: Alfredo Castro, Darío Grandinetti, Andrea Frigerio

Year: 2018

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: Argentina


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