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Film of the week The sinister shape of things to come in Argentina

MARIA DUARTE recommends a sombre portrait of a country sliding towards military dictatorship in the 1970s

Rojo (15)
Directed by Benjamin Naishtat

SET in Argentina in 1975, this dark and slow-burning crime thriller is a compelling exploration of the growing silence and complicity in a country moving towards one of the darkest moments in its history — the period of state terror from 1976 to 1983 known as “the dirty war.”

It follows Claudio (an impressive Dario Grandinetti), a lawyer in a provincial town, whose altercation with a mysterious stranger in a local restaurant one night escalates outside the premises.

The consequences are drastic. Three months later a Chilean private detective (Alfredo Castro) arrives in town determined to locate the missing man and the narrative chronicles Claudio’s slow transformation from an upstanding and successful lawyer to a morally corrupt and self-serving character who will do whatever it takes to protect himself.

People mysteriously disappear or are killed off and there is a complicit silence in the community, a harbinger of life under the forthcoming military junta.

That’s demonstrated at the film’s opening, as people enter what appears to be an abandoned house and loot it. Yet locals turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour, echoing what is to come with the coup d’etat — have the owners fled or are they “desaparecidos” (the disappeared)?

This is writer-director Benjamin Naishtat’s third film about Argentina’s conflicted history, following History of Fear and The Movement, and it perfectly captures the muted look and tone of the 1970s as well as the cinematographic style of that time —  Naishtat cites Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet and John Boorman as his inspirations.

This complex and nuanced drama, driven by Grandinetti’s standout performance and a fine supporting cast, is  a rigorous examination of a society and country losing its moral compass.

Its concerns have never rung more true in today’s toxic political climate.

 

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