Set in 1975 Argentina, months before the coup d’etat that brought the dictatorship of the National Reorganization Process, known as ‘El Proceso’, to power, this film follows Claudio (Dario Grandinetti), a successful lawyer, as his involvement in the disappearance of a mysterious stranger (Diego Cremonesi) who harassed him and his wife in a restaurant comes back to haunt him.
Director and writer Naishtat effectively uses the disappearance of people as a recurring thematic motif throughout the film to symbolise the disappearances that would occur under El Proceso. The first is of the seemingly insignificant stranger who harasses Claudio and his wife, but others include the former owners of a house that Claudio is facilitating the illegal sale of, and a boy who taunts the boyfriend of Claudio’s daughter Paula (Laura Grandinetti) about Paula cheating on him.
In addition, Naishtat does an excellent job of capturing the socio-political atmosphere of the time. There is frequent mention of an upcoming rodeo to be attended by American cowboys, which is shown to represent a further example of the close relationship between the US and the right-wing Peron government. Paula is also shown to be participating in rehearsals for a dance piece that relies heavily on archetypes of Argentinian nationalism and colonial stereotypes (there are references to ‘savages’ in the piece).
Grandinetti provides a dramatically effective main performance, charting how Claudio’s assured manner during the film’s first half gradually unravels as the murder of the stranger is investigated by the celebrity police detective Sinclair (Alfredo Castro). Sinclair’s inclusion in the narrative is one of the film’s few weak points, as the Colombo-esque character proves to be somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, Castro skilfully handles the character’s dogged determination in going after Claudio for the murder as well as his climactic emotional speech that attacks the lack of morality in Argentinian society. However, the comedic moments involving Sinclair feel tonally out of place within the otherwise serious narrative.
This issue aside, Rojo is a well-crafted look at Argentinian society during a crucial point in the country’s history through the eyes of one man and his family.