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Rojo – a captivating warning to learn lessons from the past

05 September, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Dario Grandinetti in Rojo

ROJO
Directed by Benjamin Naishtat
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆

Pause for a moment and consider where our nation is currently positioned politically. Then ask yourself what were the landmarks that led us here – and consider if you can explain, trace, and understand the journey our body politic has been on to get to the point where the current incumbent of No 10 was handed the keys essentially by just 90,000 people – and with that “mandate” believes it is right and proper to tear up conventions and ignore the will of MPs.

Rojo, a film set in 1970s Argentina as the skies darkened and a military junta took control, is strangely timely: it feels a clear warning that without constant vigilance, as we are seeing today in the UK, bad things can happen in modern societies. So much for Francis Fukuyama’s idea that we are in some post-Cold War End of History argument: as this film illustrates, when governance moves beyond agreed boundaries, “history” happens – and it doesn’t look good.

At the heart of Rojo is a story of how accepted norms and rules that created a modern, civilised social, cultural and political climate were gradually nibbled away.

Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is a respected solicitor in a small town, a beacon of probity, respectability and confidence. He knows everyone’s business – which of course he keeps to himself – and offers sage advice based on accepted truths.

Before this pillar of rule of law is introduced, we see how the structure he is part of is slowly collapsing. An opening scene offers a silent commentary on Argentina in 1975. A house in a back street fills the screen. With no sound except the tweeting of birds, we watch as people walk in and out – glancing up and down as they do so they emerge with household goods. It is a home that belongs to someone who has disappeared – and the neighbours are now not averse to getting a telly out of it. Later, the house reappears as Claudio is asked by a friend if he can help fiddle some paperwork so he can buy it on the sly: another sign of how once-unacceptable behaviour has been undermined by a government that has ignored convention and legal structures.

After this opening scene, we cut to Claudio as he sits in a restaurant waiting for his wife to appear. Another man is standing at the counter, waiting for a table – and an argument begins between the pair over who should eat first. The stranger (Diego Cremones) sees Claudio as a representative of a broken system and does not hold back. He waits outside for the couple to remonstrate further – and things take a sinister turn…

Rojo is captivating. It looks marvellous – washed out colours give it a faded 70s look, as do the set design, locations and costumes – all are blocks to give the story depth.

Grandinetti is a brilliant lead, portraying a decent man who makes some bad decisions in a world he doesn’t quite recognise any more.

There are some odd moments, strange incidental music and imagery that Naishtat uses to keep the viewer on their toes. It gives an unreal air, a sense of the absurd.

This is an intriguing, thoughtful and intelligent film with an important message at its heart that in our turbulent days feels timely.

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