Rojo opens with a fixed shot of an attractive villa on a leafy suburban street, the burble of morning activity faintly audible in the background. Several inhabitants leave, each with some item or other in hand. Polite greetings are exchanged with passers-by. Only when an elderly lady departs, her wheelbarrow laden with goods, does one begin to doubt this portrait of normalcy. This is looting Argentinian-style: theft but with airs and graces.
Benjamín Naishtat’s perplexing, unsettling portrait of his native
Things go from bad to worse for the side-burned, moustachioed protagonist, who does not help himself by being drawn into the underhand acquisition of the looted property seen earlier on. Scenes shot inside the house are particularly unnerving: the house itself has been almost completely ransacked, and eerily, all that remains of its previous owners is boxes of photographs, personal effects deemed to have no economic value, and the bloodstains smeared on the wall.
Though Claudio tries desperately to keep up appearances for his trophy wife and daughter (Andrea Frigerio and Laura Grandinetti), his tight-knit little community soon begins to come apart at the seams. There are multiple references to the desaparecidos, a word so emotive for Argentinians (and those in other countries in the Southern Cone where military dictatorships seized power in the 1970s) that it defies effective translation. It relates to the disappeared, those that the military junta literally made vanish – people snatched in the night and never seen again. Some estimates for the number of people disappeared under the dictatorship reach as high as 30,000. Naishtat’s film foreshadows this period, portraying how communities carried on even as citizens were present one day and gone the next: a doctor and his wife flee because of her ties to the nurses' union, a school outcast goes missing, a dishevelled travelling magician makes an audience member disappear.
A zealous detective arrives to find out where the bodies are buried, breathing down the neck of our now-very-ruffled counsellor. It is another inspired turn from Chilean actor Alfredo Castro, who seems to be unfailingly unsettling in every role he plays. Throughout the piece there are motifs of pursuit and conquest – with these symbols Naishtat hints not just at the inevitability of Claudio being found out by the detective, but also at the inevitability of the coup and ensuing dictatorship that looms over the film. Yet despite all this, the community continue to adhere to the usual social etiquette. Day-to-day speech is couched in euphemism - fleeing the country is “going on holiday”, a night-time raid on a dissident household is merely “a procedure”.
All events are rendered using a dizzying array of techniques mimicking film noir, soap operas and commercials all at once: slow motion sequences, blaring music, uncanny angles shot from Claudio’s cheek. A lunar eclipse leads to the camera being covered by a red lens. Stylistically impressive, technically disjointed, the film only becomes more unsettling as a result. The most magnificent sequences are those shot over the nearby salt flats, and there is one memorable sermon by Castro’s detective that extols