Tony Manero

Tony Manero

DIR: Pablo Larrain • WRI: Alfredo Castro, Mateo Iribarren, Pablo Larrain • PRO: Juan de Dios Larraín • DOP: Sergio Armstrong • ED: Andrea Chignoli • DES: Polin Garbizu • CAST: Alfredo Castro, Amparo Noguera, Paola Lattus, Héctor Morales, Elsa Poblete

A man in his fifties is obsessed with Tony Manero – John Travolta’s strutting, extended-arm disco shuffler from Saturday Night Fever. He enters a TV contest in the hope to be the best Tony Manero impersonator and win a blender for his efforts. Sounds a laugh-a-minute romp. Well it isn’t. Because this particular mimic is a psychopathic killer, whose acts of violence and impotent attempts at seducing his girlfriend’s daughter are set against the backdrop of Pinochet’s reign of terror in Chile. And he defecates on other people’s clothes – of course.

Directed by Pablo Larrain, the film focuses on a few days in the life of Raúl Peralta (an understated yet ferocious performance from Alfredo Castro, who had a hand in the screenplay along with Larrain and fellow writer, Mateo Ibibarren). Raúl heads a dance troupe in his local cantina performing laboured sequences from Saturday Night Fever – the Riverdance of the late seventies. For Raúl though, it’s much more than the dance. Sitting alone in his local cinema day after day, he repeats lines from his beloved film. In essence, Raúl’s obsession drives his psychopathic need to escape his everyday life and take on the new heroic identity that Travolta’s Manero seems to provide. All the trappings of Manero’s world are sought by Raúl – to such an extent that not only does he don that suit, but also builds his own dancefloor based on the one Travolta struts across. In order to achieve this, Raúl resorts to horrific acts of violence to get what he wants.

Here we have the ‘killer on the dancefloor’ incarnate. Certain scenes are uncomfortable to watch and others produce nervous laughter and groans – when Raúl finds out his local cinema that has been showing Saturday Night Fever for so long has replaced it with Grease, it doesn’t take him long to bludgeon the cinema attendant who sold him his ticket. There are obvious links between Raúl’s actions and those of the dictatorial regime in place at that time in Chile; but this is woven subtly into the plot rather than stitched on for effect.

Tony Manero won the top prize at the 26th annual Torino Film Festival in 2008, as well as the FIPRESCI prize (the international federation of film critics) for best film, and Alfredo Castro was awarded best actor. The film was also Chile’s submission to the 81st Academy® Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. There are no lessons learnt here. No character arcs. No redemption. No happy ending. This shouldn’t deter people from seeing it though. Whoever does, will be rewarded by experiencing one of the better films to hit the screens this year.

Steven Galvin
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Tony Manero
is released on 10th April 2009
Tony Manero – Official Website