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Rojo

“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.

Marilyn

Writer/director Martin Rodríguez Redondo’s feature film debut Marilyn tells the story of a young man struggling with his sexual identity in a society that refuses to understand or accept. It’s based on the true story of Marcelo Bernasconi, now Marilyn Bernasconi, a transgender woman whose crime became a media sensation over a decade ago. To reveal that crime is to spoil the ending of the film so implore you, if you don’t know the story do not Google before you watch the film.

Set in rural Argentina, Marilyn stars Walter Rodriguez as Marcos, the son of a lower class family who runs a farm on land they rented from a wealthy landowner. When his father dies suddenly, Marcos, his mother and his brother are left in charge and struggle to keep the farm going. Marcos steals women’s clothes and jewelry and on the night of the carnival transforms himself into Marilyn. This is where he is truly free to be himself. He has the support of his best friend Laura (Josefina Paredes), but others, including the son of a landowner, Facundo (Rodolfo Garcia Werner), who rapes him after Carnival, and his mother tries to deny him his freedom of expression and his sexuality. Marcos is facing immense pressure to live life according to gender norms. What will it take for Marcos to be free to be Marilyn?

Marilyn is a raw, spare and harrowing film. It lingers, allowing the viewer to really appreciate Marcos/Marilyn’s struggle. Rodriguez brings a sensitivity to the role that makes it feel genuine. Redondo shows great promise as a feature film director. The film ends abruptly at the aforementioned crime and it was Redondo’s intention not to make this a true crime film and he says “there’s no rational way to understand a crime, it was necessary to respect that mystery…”

Ultimately the we understand what led Marcos/Marilyn to the point of no return. However, the film holds the viewer at arm’s length. We’re with Marcos/Marilyn the whole time but we don’t really get to know this character all too well. 

Overall the film felt unique in that it wasn’t a coming-of-age story, a coming out story or a story about transition. It focused solely on the struggle. We know after the movie fades to black that there lies a much bigger story to tell on the horizon.

Marilyn opens in L.A. at Laemmle Music Hall today. It will be available through Breaking Glass Pictures on DVD/VOD on April 30th.

Slamdance: Boni Bonita

Boni Bonita, directed by Daniel Barosa, is a Brazilian-Argentine film, mostly in Portuguese, about a rebellious young woman and an aging musician. The story takes place over nine years, starting in 2007 and ending in 2016, and follows Beatriz (Ailin Salas) as she struggles with the loss of her mother, her complicated relationship with her father, self-harm and the musician who seems just out of her reach. Rogerio (Caco Ciocler), has his own struggles. He lives in the shadow of his grandfather’s musical success and has casual rendezvous with women as a way to avoid something more meaningful. Over the years Beatriz and Rogerio reunite at Rogerio’s summer home. The film explores what it means to come of age and also to go through a mid-life crisis.

The title is a reference to a song by classic Argentine singer Alberto Cortez. Rogerio plays the song for Beatriz and often calls her “Bonita”. Filmed over three years, Boni Bonita was shot in 16mm, super 16mm and digital. An inventive technique that gives the film a grainy, fuzzy appearance, as though we were watching filtered memories. According to the director Barosa, the story is based on his own experiences of the indie music scene of Sao Paolo Brazil.

I couldn’t engage with Boni Bonita no matter how hard I tried. I enjoyed the mixed media style and Ailin Salas’ performance in particular. The characters and the story didn’t draw me in and I couldn’t help but feel disconnected.

Boni Bonita is distributed by Nimboo’s Films and had its premiere at Slamdance 25 as part of the Narrative Feature Competition. It’s the only film from Latin America at the festival. Boni Bonita was a finalist for the Guioes, selected for the French Workshop Eave on Demand and a finalist for best original screenplay at the Havana Film Festival among other honors.

TIFF Review: The Quietude

Quietude2.jpg

by Raquel Stecher

La quietud
dir. Pablo Trapero
Starring: Martina Gusman, Bérénice Bejo, Edgar Ramírez, Graciela Borges

Review:

Set in a country estate in Argentina, The Quietude tells the story of two sisters Mia (Martina Gusman) and Eugenia (Bérénice Bejo). Eugenia travels back from Paris to The Quietude, the family’s expansive estate, when their father suffers a debilitating stroke. As the two pick up where they left off secrets start to bubble up to the surface: a pregnancy, extra marital affairs, fraud, toxic relationships and secret papers. This is more than just a story about rich people behaving badly. It’s about a family delving into a state of chaos as everything begins to unravel.

Pablo Trapero’s film takes the viewer on a wild ride they don’t even know they’re on. The story has several twists and turns and it borders on the edge of melodrama but never crosses the line into soap opera territory. The sexuality in the film is at times titillating and confusing. The gaze of the male director was palpable. There is a scene with the two sisters that to me felt more like a male fantasy than something that would occur between the characters. Gusman and Bejo (best known for The Artist) play their parts beautifully and in a rare instance in the history of cinema, they actually look like sisters. The standout performance is delivered by veteran actress Graciela Borges who plays the deeply tormented matriarch of the family.

Throughout the film, the family’s chaotic state is represented through reoccurring electrical outages that cause the lights to flicker and the music to screech to a stop. The Quietude is filled with absurd moments that become almost humorous. There is so much built up tension that at the film’s biggest climactic scene the audience let out a laugh. Less so because the scene was funny but because we needed to let something out.

The Quietude is dark and mysterious. While the male gaze was a bit heavy handed, I still felt like the female characters were interesting and the leads had some wonderful moments to shine.

Trapero’s film has been picked up by Columbia Pictures but no US release date has been announced. His film The Clan is available to watch on Netflix.

I attended a special press and industry screening of The Quietude at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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