During the late 70’s and early 80’s, Argentina went through its most scarring political happening. A brutal coup d’etat was followed by the establishment of a terrorist military dictatorship which became infamously known for the capture, torture and execution of those considered to be a political or ideological threat to the military junta. The junta agreed the best option to deal with the corpses was to turn the victims into desaparecidos (which translates to ‘the disappeared’) so as to become detached from the judicial implications of such crimes. Rojo references the months prior to the dictatorship, but focusing on the indifference of the civic society, which seemed to ignore the crimes and thus perpetuate the governmental wrongdoings; Rojo reflects on the ethically uncompromised common people who struggled to ignore the systematic crimes of a nation, while finding deep misery in knowing so. The film is not so much concerned with narrating a historical happening, but rather with illustrating a universal, distorted sense of morality.
The brilliant cinematography of Pablo Sotero captures an anxious atmosphere in a very subtle way. The opening scene depicts a house that could be anybody’s, in a neighborhood that could be anybody’s, in an unnamed city in a province of Argentina. Tranquility reigns. We see people coming into the house and leaving with common household items; a TV, a mirror. Even though the audience is given no reason to feel fear, the degree of normality is exactly what generates the build-up tension; there is an underlying sense of macabreness in how ordinary the scene feels.
We later come to know that the house is being emptied by neighbors after they’ve heard that the owners have left the household due to the fact that the province has been ‘intervened’ by the national government and thus many citizens are forced to self-exile themselves from the country. This is arguably the first set of desaparecidos. The film follows by presenting various cases like this and focuses on portraying the uncommitted conscience of the characters and their stubborn obsession with deceiving themselves into thinking they are innocent, when their complicity towards the crimes is impossible to justify.
It is quite trite nowadays to insist in covering the topic of the dictatorship when it has been hugely discussed in cinema and arts in general, but director Benjamín Naishtat manages to make his approach unique; various optical effects combined with the usage of old Panavision lenses and lack of sharpness create an atmosphere that directly reference the 70’s aesthetics. Cinematographic value itself makes it possible to enjoy the thriller even without any background knowledge, and the dissonant musical pieces of Dutch composer Vincent van Warmerdam adds weight to it.
Following the auditory composition of the film, there is much to say about its dialogue, which was also written by the director. Naishtat manipulates words in a very intelligent way so as to create characters that are very easy to empathize with. Their statements seem logical, the justification of their actions are highly plausible. And this is what is most disturbing. Rojo does not portray the typical Manichaean battle between good and evil, but rather illustrates the very banality of evil. Rojo is a beautiful and subtle way of reflecting upon human behaviour.
Unfortunately, subtlety is not translated into the symbolism rooted in the film, which is perhaps its most obvious resource. At one point, Claudio – an upper class lawyer interpreted by Dario Grandinetti in a highly acclaimed performance -, and his family travel to the coast of Buenos Aires to escape his paranoia. While at the beach, they experience an eclipse which they all try to ignore, but, naturally, fail to do so. It is safe to say that this scene is purely symbolic and aesthetic since it doesn’t follow through as the story develops. However, the eclipse induces a lingering thought that I have not been able to shake off; That you can’t cover the sun with your hand.
Written by Martine Wu