Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dripping with sleaze, the creeps and barely-veiled aggression: Benjamin Naishtat's ROJO

When every scene, moment, action (even the non-action) in a movie is loaded with negative possibilities that seem ready to (but never quite do) burst, the build-up can be extraordinary, even if the final result is sometimes a let-down.

In Benjamin Naishtat's new Argentine film ROJO -- actually a co-production of Argentina, Brazil, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland: It take a lot to get a movie produced these days -- the build-up in the very first scene alone is pretty staggering. There is, finally, at the end of this scene, real action, though it is kind that both surprises and then results in ever more weirdly threatening possibilities. It must also be said that the final result of Rojo, if not exactly staggering, is anything but a let-down.

Señor Naishstat, shown at right and born in 1986, has set his film in 1975, the year before the famous military coup that resulted in iron-fisted rule and some 30,000 Argentine citizens -- often young people who protested the military government -- being killed or "disappeared." The look of the film seems spot-on (though how would TrustMovies even know this, not having been in Argentina during this time), but more importantly, equally spot-on seems the increasingly creepy behavior of the citizens, beginning with our sort-of hero, family-man and lawyer, Claudio, played with a fine flair for undercurrent by ace Argentine actor Dario Grandinetti, below.

The opening scene takes place in a restaurant (below) between Claudio, a very strange and angry younger man, and the waiter. From there we move to various sections of Argentine society, culture, business and government -- including law, real estate, religion, art, education and the press -- and in each of these instances we witness the citizenry up to either no good, very little good, or perhaps in rare cases trying just a bit to circumvent the oncoming barrage.

That restaurant scene comes back to haunt our hero in strange ways but proves maybe the least of things, over all. People, when they are not acting outright sleazy (as in the case of the best friend, below, who involves Claudio in an "iffy" real estate deal), seem willing to remain silent, or very nearly. When they do speak out, as in the case of an inquiring reporter questioning a government official, you'll think you know what will happen. But even that can take longer, or work out differently, than you might have imagined

Who is complicit and how is called constantly into question. And nobody gets off the hook. It has been awhile since I've seen a movie that seemed quite as creepy and off-kilter as this one, while almost never arriving -- except at the end of that initial scene -- at anything remotely definitive.

And nothing is sacred -- not family, friendship, the workplace or the church. When a supposedly crack detective -- from Chile, yet! -- arrives on the scene (played by the excellent Alfredo Castro, below), the fact that he is/was a real detective, now plays one on television, and yet is still used for solving crimes, seems somehow ridiculously fitting.

I suspect it will help your enjoyment of the film if you know something of the history of Argentina (or something of South and Central American history in general). Either way, it should not take too much of a leap for American viewers to realize that the allowing -- or is it really perhaps the welcoming -- of a dictatorship can arrive all too easily and quickly. And, no, wearing a wig won't help.

From 1844 Entertainment and Distrib Films US, in Spanish with English subtitles, and running 109 minutes, Rojo opens this Friday, July 12, in New York City at Film at Lincoln Center and the Quad Cinema, and on Friday, July 19 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, followed by a rollout to other cities over the weeks to come.

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