Review: Rojo (2018)

Rojo (2018)

Directed by: Benjamin Naishtat | 109 minutes | drama | Actors: Claudio Martínez Bel, Mara Orderli, Alfredo Castro, Rudy Chernicoff, Diego Cremonesi, Rafael Federman, Andrea Frigerio, Darío Grandinetti, Laura Grandinetti, Abel Ledesma, Raymond E. Lee, Susana Pampín, Fabiana Uria

Today is red. It is the end of 1975, we are on the eve of the military coup in Argentina. General Jorge Videla will be named president, who would plunge the country into a violent military dictatorship for the next eight years, in which thousands of Argentines would disappear and millions of others would look the other way. But we haven’t met Commander-in-Chief Videla yet. In fact, we as viewers don’t know anything about all this yet, and in the third film by the young director Benjamín Naishtat, we don’t exactly receive this information on a silver platter.

But what we don’t know, we do feel: something is threatening. There is something eerie, something violent in the air – despite the jovial seventies atmosphere. Main character Claudio, a successful lawyer and real Argentine family man, comes into contact with it in the very first scene – and turns out not to have clean hands himself. While Claudio is in a neighborhood restaurant waiting for his wife – who is always late – another man more or less forces him to give up his table. If there’s no food, he can’t afford to keep the table occupied for so long, the mustachioed stranger thinks. An extremely awkward scene – and a ‘humiliation for beginners’ lesson – later, the young man has erupted into a frenzy and kicked out of the restaurant. Claudio has not lost face for all his fellow villagers and when his wife finally arrives dinner can begin in peace.

This is just part one of the insane opening sequence of ‘Rojo’, which turns from bad to worse and forms the starting point for the rest of the story full of intrigue and secrets. The clever thing is that director Naishtat, who also wrote the screenplay himself, first lets the viewer catch his breath again, even makes them smile, as if it’s all okay. In doing so he confronts us directly with the human tendency to think that it will take our time, that the soup is really not eaten so hot when it is served. And to look the other way for the deeds of our fellow man, especially when they concern decent citizens like Claudio.

But events aren’t easy, and Claudio’s decisions are irreversible, as it turns out. Especially when an eccentric Chilean detective (played by Alfredo Castro, who we know from various roles in Pablo Larraín’s films) visits the village and does not want to leave Claudio alone.

In this morbid, at times absurdist thriller, director Naishtat has chosen not to hit the viewer with historical context – we have Google for that. However, he packed the film full of symbolism: everything is red, the blood on the walls of an ‘abandoned’ house colors beautifully with the bloody steaks that they love so much in the Argentinean countryside. The uneasy disappearing act of an androgynous magician represents all the disappearances that the ‘dirty war’ spawned, and the teenagers show how a spiral of violence begins at an early age. This combination means that some prior knowledge is recommended – and otherwise simply watching the film twice is certainly not a punishment.

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