In its attempts to chart the decaying values of a country in the midst of political turmoil, Benjamín Naishtat’s Rojo is disruptive from the very outset. The Argentinian writer-director’s exploration of poisonous nobility in 1970s high society finds Claudio (Dario Grandinetti), a Buenos Aires lawyer, becoming embroiled in the disappearance of local man Dieguito (Diego Cremonesi), after the pair have an altercation in a local restaurant. The film opens with their bitter dispute, in a scene that is wonderfully tense, its tumultuous dynamic slowly revealing to us which of these men has the superior intellect and nerve. The primary strength of Rojo is in how it portrays damaged moral frameworks, with a perpetually shifty performance from Grandinetti helping to make man-of-stature Claudio into an intriguing antihero, one who continually distorts his own ethics to suit his needs.
Stories about the past catching up with shady characters can often be rewarding for an audience, yet it takes far too long for the investigation into the missing man to commence, Alfredo Castro’s entrance as the grandstanding Detective Sinclair a thoroughly welcome intrusion — an entire hour into the proceedings. Prior to this, there is too much focus afforded to Claudio’s questionable business pursuits, as well as a superfluous subplot involving his daughter that attempts to address the political involvement of a younger generation. Naishtat’s use of the freeze frame, a popular film technique in the Seventies, helps to give the film some nostalgic flair, while his offhand comedy recalls the sort found in Claude Chabrol works such as 1986’s Inspector Lavardin. Collectively, these elements help to build the distinctive appeal of Rojo, which, while unable to capitalize fully on the promise of its exciting opening act, remains a perceptive and colorful disquisition on the failure of lawmakers to lead by example.
Published as part of July 2019’s Before We Vanish.