Disturbingly witty Rojo brings on the South American paranoia, '70s style

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      Starring Darío Grandinetti. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      A mild-mannered gentleman sits alone at a restaurant table, waiting for his wife, while a gruff stranger—someone who looks like an angry cop—demands his table.

      Both have ’70s B-movie mustaches, and Rojo itself deploys the tacky zooms and jump cuts associated with the era. You may wonder which ’stache will win, but things aren’t that simple, and little is what it seems.

      The setting is small-town Argentina of 1975, and the seated man is a well-respected lawyer called Claudio (superb Almodóvar veteran Darío Grandinetti).

      The latter (Diego Cremonesi), we later learn, is called El Hippie, although he’s almost as old as Claudio and is hardly a counterculture figure. But paranoia is in the air, and strange mayhem ensues. The country is on the verge of its fourth military coup of the 20th century, kicking off the Dirty War shared by its neighbours in Chile and Brazil (and currently being revived there). 

      Whole families are disappearing. And the movie begins with neighbours happily plundering a suddenly abandoned suburban home.

      But Claudio, his genteel wife (Andrea Frigerio), and their artistic daughter (the lead’s real-life offspring, Laura Grandinetti) are untouched by the upheaval most people are happy to ignore. Until a private detective (The Club’s Alfredo Castro) from Pinochet’s Chile arrives and starts asking Claudio about the missing Hippie.

      In the anti-Communist fervor of the day, anyone can be rojo, an image made literally red when the family makes a seaside trip to witness a daytime eclipse.

      Are there special glasses to protect your eyes from everything you shouldn’t see?

      Writer-director Benjamin Naishtat and Brazilian cinematographer Pedro Sotero purposely deployed mannered imagery and soap-opera close-ups to generate a story that turns in on itself in the manner of Luis Buñuel’s movies of that tacky era. The effect is disorienting, sometimes disturbingly witty, and filled with portents of weird eclipses to come.