Benjamín Naishtat on Rojo

Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) and CineMart supported films often turn out to become festival favourites. Rojo by Benjamín Naishtat is such an example, travelling the world from San Sebastian to the Platform section at TIFF in Toronto. Yoana Pavlova had a short catch up with Naishtat about the film and the role of HBF. 

Into the imaginarium of the 1970s

When a film opens with an establishing shot of a house facade, the first thing to assume is that this is where the protagonist lives. Only in Rojo ("red" in Spanish), as we learn later on, the house is abandoned, so people come and go – to ransack for anything valuable left, to meet the happy past, or to encounter their guilt about an unspoken yet shared future.

Benjamín Naishtat's third feature is set in a provincial Argentinian town in 1975, right before the coup d'état against Isabel Perón, where Claudio (Darío Grandinetti) is a respected lawyer as well as a model citizen, husband, and father. Becoming more and more involved in different shadowy affairs, though, he also has to deal with a Chilean TV-show detective (Alfredo Castro, back to Tony Manero mode) investigating a potential murder. With the empty house being a pronounced and powerful statement about Argentine in the mid-seventies, it is interesting to look at what hides behind the film title. "It has many layers behind it, for example at the key dramatic moment, there is a strange, sort of red eclipse," the writer-director elaborates, further adding: "but also, of course, there is a political nuance to it, because in many parts of the film, people talk about some danger or some evil force, as it is stated by the detective character played by Alfredo Castro – he is referring to what in the 1970s was seen as the Red Danger, because of the Cold War and the clash between the Left and the Right."

  • Still from Rojo (2018), film by Benjamín Naishta.

    Still from Rojo (2018)

  • Still from Rojo (2018), film by Benjamín Naishta.

    Still from Rojo (2018)

  • Still from Rojo (2018), film by Benjamín Naishta.

    Still from Rojo (2018)

  • Filmmaker Benjamín Naishta

    Filmmaker Benjamín Naishta

Naishtat's own family members were persecuted in that turbulent era, for belonging to leftist militant groups, so their house was burned down and they went on exile in France, where part of them are still living at present. "I was very interested in and appealed by this whole 1970s decade, I mean, it has marked the country and still resonates a lot in the current big social and political tensions we are facing today." Still, when talking about Rojo as a personal project, the filmmaker specifies: "it is also because I'm a big fan of the films from the 1970s, and I tried to create one that employs the grammar of the time." Naming Coppola's The Conversation (1974), John Boorman's Deliverance (1972), and Sidney Lumet's Serpico (1973) and Network (1976) as influential references, he acknowledges: "All of these films are very lively, also they had to deal with some technical changes happening throughout the 1970s – lighter camera, the invention of the zoom, etc, so that combined with a particular political momentum, in the world, I think, produced a very special kind of cinema, which is among the best I've seen."

Rojo at TIFF

Rojo tops the final TIFF Platform jury grid of Screen International

Read more

Rojo's team went to great lengths to recreate the seventies on screen with the utmost detail and authenticity, and in this sense the Hubert Bals Fund's support proved instrumental: "the grant allowed me to hire a historian to help me with what was a proper historical investigation, because we wanted the film to be very precise." In addition, Naishtat gives credit to the film's Dutch composer, Vincent van Warmerdam, and the opportunity to work with him – "this was also possible thanks to the help we got from the Netherlands Film Festival [Holland Film Meeting], after HBF." Recounting the extensive post-production process, from adding a layer of 1970s negative film over the digital file and emulating a 1970s sound mix to going through the Argentinian charts from that time and picking the most popular songs for Rojo, the director calls this "beautiful work." TIFF and San Sebastián audiences, where the film premieres this autumn, will most definitely agree.

Photo in header: Filmmaker Benjamín Naishtat