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Thread: ROJO (Benjamín Naishtat 2018)

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    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    ROJO (Benjamín Naishtat 2018)



    Surreal but limp picture of moral decline

    Argentinian filmmaker Benjamín Naishtat's first film History of Fear (ND/NF 2014) was better than this new third one, which is a disjointed and surreal depiction of a provincial lawyer's moral decline at the end of one dictatorship and the dawn of another. That earlier film worked as a series of disquieting incidents. The trouble here is that Naishtat has a linear narrative going from early on, about Counselor Claudio (Darío Grandinetti) and in this marginally more accessible context the incoherent elements are jarring. Locals used to reading code may nonetheless find this useful, even thrilling historical commentary.

    Naishtat is evidently a surrealist. The time is early September 1975. The film ends as the coup is imminent. This movie has three beginnings. One focuses on a crowd of people walking out of a house carrying things. Its neat facade shot in the middle distance could be a painting by René Magritte. If it's not clear now it is later that they are looting. The house is later described as "abandoned." Students of Argentinian history will guess that the occupants have been "disappeared." And this strange ceremony is a preview of creeping moral corruption.

    Next, Claudio is sitting in a restaurant waiting for his wife, who is late. He is menaced by an aggressive man called Dieguito or "El Hippy" (Diego Cremonesi), who persuades Claudio to give up his table. But Claudio publicly berates "El Hippy" for his rude, aggressive behavior till he leaves. Then, enraged, "El Hippy" lies in wait outside when Claudio leaves with his wife ((Andrea Frigerio), goes mad, breaks the car window, and shoots himself. He lies moaning. Instead of taking him to a hospital, Claudio leaves his wife behind and drives "El Hippy" out into the desert and abandons him there.

    The other morally bankrupt thing Claudio does later is to help a friend use fake papers to sell the "abandoned " house of the introduction and give Claudio a third of the take as reward. But in between there are unrelated scenes, like a group of friends gathering to play an international affairs board game, dance classes, and a trip to the beach and barbecue, that fall flat. Naishtat has been compared to Yorgos Lanthimos, but he doesn't have that director's energy and drive, not here, anyway. Of course the aim here is to reflect a rural backwater, where little "provincial gentlemen" like Claudio can lord it over others and go unnoticed. This is not only decline but stagnation, the way conventionality can turn stale and become a hypnotic numbness.

    The arrival of the great Chilean actor Alfredo Castro as Sinclair, a celebrity detective from TV, to "investigate" and menace Claudio (but only menace him), also falls pretty flat - especially since we remember Castro from Pablo Larraín's terrific early films depicting the horror and corruption of the Chilean dictatorship and its aftermath, Tony Manero and Post Mortem, where Castro embodied the creepy essence of moral decline under dictatorship. Those are serious business, deliciously, horrifyingly creepy.

    Rojo, 109 mins., premiered at Toronto Sept. 2018; 21 other international festivals including San Sebastian, Goteborg, and Rotterdam. It opened in NY in July, comes to the Bay Area Sept. 13, 2019. Metascore 75%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-07-2019 at 11:42 PM.


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