There's a moment in the first act of Rojo from Argentinian filmmaker Benjamín Naishtat that would almost let us believe things are about to get crazy. During a familial board game night at the home of Claudio (Darío Grandinetti), a friend posits that the only way to deal with a fly is to repeatedly shoo it away the very moment it lands. "They run out of breath like we do," he says, insisting that the fly will eventually tire and be ripe for the kill. And given the film's premise—that a lawyer with a dark secret must come to terms with his actions in a country rife with corruption—we almost think it'll be applicable and that a bunch of exciting things are about to happen.
Instead, while Grandinetti's Claudio doesn't get much respite throughout the film, it's a psychological torture doled out slowly in 1975 Argentina. It's a time and place when corruption runs deep, where a member of higher society might have done something awful but can continue on in life unabated; where someone's disappearance means shady business dealings and brazen, public looting; where the government readily showcases progress to the world while maintaining its stranglehold on the people.
Rojo is a tough sell, the slowest of burns playing out in offices and conference rooms and among teens searching desperately for a moral compass and finding none. Naishtat takes thing so slowly in Rojo's intro act, where lulls are common, but in reading between the lines and charging ever forward, one might find both a severe history lesson and stark morality play unfolding and landing with satisfying oomph. Grandinetti positively owns the screen after a point, a terrifying yet normal-seeming family man capable of chilling heartlessness. Elsewhere, Alfredo Castro as a detective carrying the dangling sword of justice wows in his interactions with Grandinetti.
In other words, this one's for the dialogue fans and the patient, for those in search of deeper and darker meaning than a more visceral film might supply. It's a bit of a long walk to get there, and multiple viewings might be necessary to catch everything going on, but Naishtat's script and direction wind up being quite powerful, and the squirming in one's seat makes the ultimate payoff feel well-earned.
+Tense and political; Grandinetti
-Sometimes too slow
Directed by Naishtat
With Grandinetti and Castro
Jean Cocteau Cinema, NR, 109 min.