“For a cop things are black or white. In the middle there’s nothing.”
The year is 1975. In a small province of Argentina, a group of people are quietly emptying a house of its most valuable possessions. It’s rumored that the family who lived there were the targets of a government raid and have since fled the country. This introduction tells us what we need to know about mid-1970s Argentina and the government corruption that endangers its own people.
Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is a town counselor and lawyer. A tense confrontation with a stranger, later known as El Hippie (Diego Cremonesi), at a restaurant escalates and ends in tragedy. Claudio leaves this unfortunate event behind him and transitions back to his normal life with his wife Susana (Andrea Frigerio) and teenage daughter Paula (Laura Grandinetti). Corruption lurks around every corner as friends go missing. After arranging an underhanded deal with his friend Vivas (Claudio Martinez Bel) to buy the aforementioned house, Claudio discovers the true identity of El Hippie and that Vivas has hired former cop turned celebrity detective Sinclair (Alfredo Castro) to investigate. It’s only a matter of time for things to unravel for Claudio as Sinclair zeroes in on what really happened.
Written and directed by Benjamin Naishtat, Rojo is a moody and atmospheric drama that explores how government corruption enables the worst in human behavior. I found this film deeply unsettling. Right from the very beginning I got a sense of dread. As though danger were lurking at every corner. Why is the camera so still? Why is it looking at this house for so long? Is the house going to explode? It didn’t but that was the palpable tension that made me so engrossed in the film.
Rojo means red in Spanish and the film utilizes the color in many ways. The most interesting use of the color comes from the scene when a solar eclipse casts a red glow. This is a pivotal point in the film as detective Sinclair has just entered Claudio’s life, stirring the pot and making Claudio very uncomfortable. Claudio and his wife escape to the beach where they witness the eclipse and this moment the beginning of an end of sorts.
Naishtat was inspired to make Rojo from his fascination with the 1970s and “the symbolic burden” the political persecution and exile of the Argentine people had on future generations. The overall theme of a greater evil threatening the personal freedoms of citizens is compelling and universal but really gives the viewers a sense of one of the darkest times in Argentina’s history.
Rojo opens in New York City at Quad Cinema and the Film at Lincoln Center on Friday and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal on July 19th.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
Set in Colorado circa 1972, BlacKkKlansman follows the Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) as he navigates the racially charged atmosphere of his new job and community. Ron has a passion for police work but being the first black cop at his department means the odds are stacked against him. After he’s promoted to undercover work, he meets and becomes smitten with Patrice (Laura Harrier), a civil rights activist attending a Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) event. He’s then assigned to gather intelligence on a local chapter of the KKK. Caught between these two worlds, he devises a plan. He’ll inflitrate the KKK with the help of his white coworker Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who will do undercover work in person while Ron speaks to key figures, including Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) on the phone. The tension in Colorado Springs escalates as the Black Panther activists increase their activity and the KKK devises a bomb plot to take out protestors. Ron and Flip must find a way to save their community and themselves before their true identities are revealed.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman makes a bold political statement about racism in an effective way. The film is based on the true story of undercover cop Ron Stallworth. Lee and his writing team used Stallworth’s memoir as the basis for the script but made some key changes including a shift in the timeline and the addition of the bomb plot. The final chapter of the film directly links the events in the story to those of the Unite the Right Rally and the deadly car attack in Charlottesville, VA in 2017. By connecting the past and the present, Lee’s film is giving a clear warning to the future.
Stylistically BlacKkKlansman is stunning. It’s quite an achievement to make the 1970s, known for faded oranges, yellows and browns, look vibrant and colorful. I love how the film stayed true to the era but still finds a way to appeal to the modern eye. As a classic film enthusiast I’d be remiss not to point out how elated I was to see African-American performer and activist Harry Belafonte in the film. He has a small part as Jerome Turner, an elderly man who recounts his stories of witnessing atrocities. His scene is juxtaposed with a KKK initiation ceremony. That whole sequence packs a powerful punch.
BlacKkKlansman is nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Original Score, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director (Spike Lee), Best Supporting Actor (Adam Driver) and Best Film Editing. I highly recommend following up your viewing of BlacKkKlansman with the documentary Alt-Right: Age of Rage which I reviewed a few months back.