Famed musician/lyricist Neil Peart once wrote, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” This sentiment is at the heart of ROJO, the latest dramatic thriller from Argentinian filmmaker Benjamín Naishtat. The film is essentially a study of apathy and the many ramifications that follow it. Is there a greater evil than apathy? By nature, it is cold and unfeeling—a toxic state of mind that disconnects us from what makes us human. It is undeniably a symptom of a privileged life, and this is the exact notion ROJO seeks to explore with expert precision. Set against the political backdrop of 1970s Argentina, the film takes place a year prior to the coup d’état that would enstate a ruthless dictatorship.
The film centers around a wealthy lawyer named Claudio (Darío Grandinetti), who enjoys all of the pleasantries of a privileged life along with his family. Claudio has no concern over the social and political unrest in his nation, as it does not impact his daily life in any way whatsoever. His apathy is evident in the way he conducts his business affairs and treats his fellow peers. These qualities are made especially clear in the film’s explosive opening scene, in which Claudio publicly berates and humiliates a young man in a restaurant. Choosing to focus on the man’s origins and upbringing, Claudio criticizes the man for what he perceives to be rude manners and a lack of respect. Clearly distraught from Claudio’s remarks, the man is removed from the restaurant following an emotional outburst. Thinking the ordeal is over, Claudio resumes dinner with his wife, only to be confronted by the same young man later on in the parking lot. After a violent altercation, the man attempts suicide. He’s unsuccessful and clings to life just barely in front of Claudio and his wife. In response to this incident, Claudio makes a decision that says everything about the man he is and casts a gloomy cloud over the remainder of the film.
From here the film plays out in observational segments—we watch as Claudio carries on with his life, with regular indifference towards the struggles of others around him. This is not only Claudio’s mindset but the collective perspective of the entire nation. Even the youth of this Argentina are indifferent to violence and unrest—-they’ve come to accept it as a normal part of their lives. It’s a sobering look at the history of this time period, and one can’t help but make modern-day comparisons in the process. For this reason, ROJO feels incredibly relevant, in spite of being a film about another place and time. In our present day, in which being informed and politically active is so crucial, apathy is one of our greatest enemies. ROJO acts as a reflection upon a nation’s troubled history, while also warning of the inevitable likelihood of repeating it all.
The film is aided by stellar performances and stylized directing. Naishtat utilizes filmmaking tropes and aesthetics of the era in which the film is set, and his charged suspense is reminiscent of Hitchcock. There are many uncomfortable moments, many awkwardly close angles and long takes. Naishtat intentionally abandons the frantic editorial stylings of today’s cinema and allows his camera to linger. It’s an effect we’re no longer accustomed to, and it immediately makes us feel uneasy. Above all else, Naishtat warns us to never lose touch with our fellow humans. Remember that we all have souls, emotions, hopes, dreams, and fears. Never lose sight of that or we risk dehumanizing those less fortunate than ourselves. This is a lesson today’s world leaders and the upper class could afford to learn. Maybe they should watch ROJO. You definitely should. ROJO is now available on Amazon.