×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Rojo’

The complacency and corruption of pre-coup Argentina is laid bare in chilling, absurd style in Benjamin Naishtat's superb third feature.

Director:
Benjamin Naishtat
With:
Dario Grandinetti, Andrea Frigerio, Alfredo Castro, Diego Cremonesi, Laura Grandinetti, Susuana Pampin, Claudio Martinez Bel, Rudy Chenicoff, Mara Bestelli, Rafael Federman. (Spanish dialogue)

1 hour 49 minutes

The past is a hurriedly abandoned house, ripe for the looting, in Benjamin Naishtat’s superbly sinister and stylish “Rojo.” And so it begins with one: A mid-sized, detached 1970s home, its windows shuttered like the closed eyes of a coma patient. A portly, well-dressed man emerges carrying an ornamental clock — this scoreless scene, set to chilly early-morning birdsong, is already tinged with absurdity — before a girl scurries off with an armful of clothes, an older lady totters out under the weight of a gilt mirror and some men maneuver a TV through the doorway. They are not residents, nor neighbors attending a yard sale; they are scavengers, implicitly turning some unseen family’s misfortune to their own end. This is regional Argentina in 1975, and while the coup d’état won’t happen for months, the unease of it is already an airborne disease carried backward on the wind. Argentina’s middle-classes are battening down the hatches of self-interest against the storm to come.

With an abrupt cut, typical of Andrés Quaranta’s bold, smash-cut editing style, we’re in a noisy restaurant where well-known lawyer Claudio (“Wild Tales” star Dario Grandinetti, his baldness accentuated by the luxuriance of his mustache), sits alone at a table waiting for his wife. A twitchy stranger (Diego Cremonesi) materializes at his elbow and starts to loudly harangue him for taking up space in a full restaurant when others are ready to order. Under the barrage, Claudio unexpectedly relents, and gives the man the table.

But the loss of face is insupportable and so the harangued Claudio becomes the haranguer, not stopping until the unstable stranger, broken and weeping in the contested seat, dives for the exit ranting madly about Nazis. Claudio and his wife Susana (Andrea Frigerio, a picture of high-maintenance complacency) will, however, meet him again on their way home, an encounter that culminates in a trip to the darkened desert where dead bodies sprout like night-blooming flowers.

There are so many things going on in this prologue, before the title has even appeared: The stranger is a character zinging with menace, but he’s also an allegory for the ruling classes’ idea of an obnoxious proletariat demanding a literal seat at the table. This critique of bourgeois hypocrisy is reminiscent of Lucrecia Martel’s “The Headless Woman,” but “Rojo” is also a Ruben Östlund-esque satire on masculine social behavior: Claudio’s demeanor as he humiliates the man is that of a wolf with the scent of blood in his nostrils. It’s also a work of mordant paranoia in the vein of Pablo Larraín — an impression enhanced when Larraín regular Alfredo Castro shows up as a hilariously creepy “celebrity detective” from Chile, where the coup has already happened.

The shooting style is something else again. We get Peckinpah-esque slow-motion, Pakula-style split diopters, the grainy, uncheerful grade of “The American Friend” and lurid crash zooms that seem lifted from “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” and other 1970s schlock, which also influences Vincent van Warmerdam’s excellent, foreboding score. But it’s drained of campiness by the effortless control of d.p. Pedro Sotero (a regular collaborator with Kleber Mendonça Filho). A costume and production design palette of yeasty yellows and olive greens accents the splashes of titular red: dull pinkish hues, deep burgundies and a nightmarish blood-red filter used to evoke the uncanny light of a solar eclipse.

Naishtat’s deft screenplay is more ambitious even than that high-concept beginning, weaving in rodeos and magic shows, beach trips and tennis matches, gallery openings and game nights. Subplots abound: Claudio’s friend Vivas (Claudio Martínez Bel) is putting together a shady real estate deal; a troupe of American cowboys become pawns in a political chess game; and Claudio’s daughter Paula (Laura Grandinetti, Dario’s real-life daughter) is jealously eyed by her boyfriend Santiago (Rafael Federman), the personification of the next generation of well-off, entitled Argentinian manhood. And that’s before the sanctimonious Detective Sinclair (Castro) shows up to investigate the disappearance of Vivas’ brother-in-law. Indeed, the bassline of twanging unease here is disappearance, and how everyone who vanishes — the house’s occupants; the stranger in the restaurant; the boy Santiago talks to about Paula — does so somehow to the advantage of the privileged class.

Eclipses only last a few seconds, and the disappearing-woman magic trick ends with reappearance. But in reality, in moments of erasure we lose things that we never get back. Full of unexpected formal flourishes and darkly witty dilemmas, this third film marks a magnificent step up from Naishtat’s already promising “History of Fear” and “The Movement.” “Rojo” is a witheringly provocative examination of temporary moral eclipse becoming permanent moral apocalypse, in a vortex of social upheaval in which respectable men are corrupted, innocent men are persecuted and a hairless man, whose baldness is perhaps the last honest thing about him, finally dons a wig.

Film Review: 'Rojo'

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 23, 2018. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Platform.) Running time: 109 MIN.

Production: (Argentina-Belgium-Brazil-Germany-France-Switzerland) A Pucara Cine production in co-production with Desvia, Ecce Films, Viking Film, Sutor Kolonko in association with Bord Cadre Films, Le Tiro, Jempsa. (International sales: Luxbox, Paris.) Producers: Barbara Sarasola-Day, Federico Eibuszyc. Co-producers: Emmanuel Chaurmet, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Marleen Slot, Ingmar Trost.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Benjamin Naishtat. Camera (color, widescreen): Pedro Sotero. Editor: Andres Quaranta. Music: Vincent van Warmerdam.

With: Dario Grandinetti, Andrea Frigerio, Alfredo Castro, Diego Cremonesi, Laura Grandinetti, Susuana Pampin, Claudio Martinez Bel, Rudy Chenicoff, Mara Bestelli, Rafael Federman. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Song Ge

    Beijing Culture's Song Ge Urges Mainstream Directors to Toe Government Line

    Publicity-shy Beijing Culture chairman Song Ge took to the stage at his company’s first-ever press conference to promote a film slate. He openly urged film directors to, for the sake of their investors, stick to material that would please the Chinese state. “I think if you’re shooting an art house or smaller budget films, it’s [...]

  • Iran presentation at Shanghai film festival

    Shanghai: China-Iran Heading Towards Co-Production Treaty

    “China has signed co-production agreements with 22 countries. Similar agreements between Iran and China are in the works, and will be signed by the end of this year,” said Miao Xiaotian, GM of the China Film Co-Production Corporation on Monday. Miao was speaking at the Shanghai International Film Festival, which is hosting a six-title Focus Iran section [...]

  • Roland Emmerich

    Shanghai: Roland Emmerich, Frant Gwo on China's Sci-fi Prospects

    Iconic Chinese and Hollywood directors Frant Gwo and Roland Emmerich did not take the stage together at the Shanghai International Film Festival, but on Monday they got the chance to praise each other’s movies and share insights into sci-fi. “I totally understand why it did well,” said “Independence Day” director Emmerich of Gwo’s recent “Wandering [...]

  • Beyond the Mountain

    ‘Beyond the Mountain,’ ‘Fireflies,’ ‘The Chambermaid’ Top Lleida Latin American Film Fest

    BARCELONA  — David R. Romay’s feature debut “Beyond the Mountain” snagged Best Feature at Lleida’s 25th Latin America Film Festival of Catalonia, hosted in the world’s culinary capital for grilled snails, 84 miles west of Barcelona. A dramatic thriller starring Benny Emmanuel (Gael García Bernal’s “Chicuarotes”), it follows Miguel, a young, solitary man whose routine [...]

  • shanghai skyline China Placeholder

    Shanghai: Tencent, Phoenix Win Rights to Taiwan Documentary 'Love Talk' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tencent has acquired the online video streaming rights and Phoenix Hong Kong the TV rights to Taiwanese documentary “Love Talk,” which takes a deep dive into the topic of marriage. The film is currently working towards a mainland theatrical release. Directed by Shen Ko-Shang (“A Rolling Stone”), it is produced by CNEX Studio and 7th [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content