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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 Competition

Benjamín Naishtat • ​​Director

"I want film to be an almost physical experience”


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Argentina's Benjamín Naishtat talks about his third film, Rojo, a co-production between various Latin American and European countries that went down a storm in Toronto

Benjamín Naishtat  • ​​Director
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Benjamín Naishtat wrote the screenplay for his third film as a director: Rojo [+see also:
film review
interview: Benjamín Naishtat
film profile
, an unconventional crime film imbued with both humour and horror that stars Darío Grandinetti, supported by Andrea Frigerio and the always magnificent Alfredo Castro. Cineuropa caught up with him at the 66th San Sebastián International Film Festival, where Rojo is competing in the official selection amid high expectations.

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Cineuropa: This isn’t your first trip to San Sebastián, is it?
Benjamín Naishtat:
I brought my first film, History of Fear [+see also:
film review
film profile
, to Films in Progress in 2013, and the following year it was screened in the Horizontes Latinos section, so I have a strong connection to this competition and I love it, especially because it gives such a prominent place to Latin American films.

In this film, your third, the tension is more implied than direct.
Yes, it’s a crime film of sorts, and crime as a genre invites you into this interplay of suggestion, of mystery; that’s the basis for bringing the audience with you and holding their attention. But yes, I like working with tension. The language of film can make you feel different things depending on the genre; I love horror, which I dabbled with in my first film. I want film to be an almost physical experience.

At the same time, you keep a tight rein on that suspense, because it seems like nothing is happening and yet there are horrifying undercurrents to what we see.
That’s right. Rojo tells the story of a community where, although it’s trying to keep up appearances in the face of something that’s unravelling from the inside out, I would agree with that assessment: there’s something latent. I show each individual’s personal miseries: why do they need to pretend? At the same time, we’re all in our own heads most of the time ― it’s always good to give the characters little quirks that help people identify with them, and if you’re showing their despair it’s a more powerful experience, so you start to question yourself. The film has a lot of moments like that.

Rojo is also a portrait of a period, the 1970s, that was particularly turbulent in Argentina.
Absolutely, yes. At that time there was a genocide in Argentina: more than 30,000 people disappeared. Various films have been made about that period, but Rojo aims to focus on the complicity of society, something that is also being discussed in Spain with the Franco era and the mass graves hidden in ditches. There are direct factors in social and cultural complicity, but also certain necessary conditions that are more complex and contentious to deal with — but I think it’s even more important that we do, because otherwise history seems like something that happens to other people.

The film also portrays how evil can be contagious, almost like a virus.
It’s not so much about evil; it leaves you with the impression that there are no good people or bad people, just people who do bad things. They see that they can do something and they do it, because they can, because there’s a context of impunity and silence, and so they act. The film shows different generations ― young people, middle-class and middle-aged people. Every part of society plays a role; it’s like a community portrait, despite being essentially a crime film.

Has it been shown in Argentina?
It will be released on 25 October and we’re interested to see the reactions and debates it provokes, bearing in mind that this is also a turbulent time in Argentina, with one big crisis and several others besides. It’s a very fragile and grim situation, with a government ruled by the extreme right. That’s the reality.

But is Argentinian society self-reflective — do people acknowledge their part in what happened?
Not at all. Argentina has its good points; I’m not a misanthrope and I love my country, with all its riches, but above all you have to be honest. It’s a society in denial, with no desire to know itself and that goes through life looking for reflections in other cultures. It’s ashamed to be what it is. It’s a society with all kinds of pathologies, but that’s great for making films, because you’re never short of themes or characters.

Rojo is a co-production between Europa and Brazil…
For a low-budget film, it was actually quite expensive because it’s a period piece and there were costumes, extras and cars. We couldn’t get together the money we needed to make a film like this in Argentina, and we had co-producers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil and Switzerland who believed in the project. They’ll distribute it in those countries and they came up with the funds we needed to complete production. Right from the start, I wanted the film to stand on its own regardless of the viewer’s historical knowledge, partly because younger generations in Argentina aren’t curious about history; they don’t know what happened. The film is designed in such a way that anyone can get involved in the story and empathise with a community that’s complicit in something, because that’s pretty universal.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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