Rojo (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018
Dir: Benjamin Naishtat | Cast: Alfredo Castro, Dario Grandinetti, Andrea Frigerio, Diego Cremonesi | Drama | Argentina | 109′
Benjamin Naishtat captures the existential angst of Argentina’s Pinochet era in his sinuously captivating Noirish thriller that chews over some weighty socio-political themes and distils them into subtle Buenos Aires set drama.
ROJO follows his previous moody titles History of Fear (2014) and The Movement (2015) and the opening pre-title scene sees a series of ordinary people gradually emerging from an abandoned house, bearing armfuls of valuables and pieces of furniture. Meanwhile, it’s Saturday night and a highly regarded barrister (Dario Grandinetti) is waiting for his wife (Frigerio) in a busy local restaurant. Claudio, a quietly assured man of firm authority, is suddenly upstaged by an impatient single diner who demands that he vacate the table. The situation soon escalates into a frosty contretemps but Claudio refuses to rise to the bait, calmly returning to the bar where he delivers an articulate verbal put down. But it doesn’t end there and we are left in a quandary as to the outcome, as the story flips to three months later. This tight-knit middle class community is gradually exposed as one of astonishing volatility, and even discord: a brilliant metaphor for the state of the country in general in 1975. Chunks of land are being bought somewhat illegally, law-abiding locals are suddenly becoming vaguely immoral and citizens are disappearing without reason with no questions asked, as a pervasive paranoia creeps like wildfire through the unsettled community. ROJO lurks in a murky Seventies aesthetic, Naishtat creating a climate of menacing fear with a screeching score of strings (from Vincent van Warmerdam) and some cleverly crafted slo-mo sequences that suggest docudrama. Uncertainty and danger loom at every corner in a clammy climate of fear and mistrust.
In the final hour, Alfredo Castro’s seedy detective Sinclair insinuates himself into the scenario to investigate the murder of “a hippy” who, it emerges, is related to one of Claudio’s close friends Mabel (who is also in emotional meltdown). Channelling Colombo with his stealthy exits and sudden reappearances, Sinclair sets the lawyer’s nerves a-jangling in an uncanny set-to that is both alarming and totally unexpected. It’s a superbly sinister performance from Castro who suddenly the cat amongst the pigeons – without any justification, Claudio feels culpable yet has nowhere to go. As the various subplots intertwine the narrative hints at wider implications for the nation as a whole and Naishtat keeps the tension tightly wound in this unnerving intriguing thriller. MT.
IN COMPETITON AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | BEST DIRECTOR WINNER San Sebastian 2018