TONY MANERO || 2008, Chile / Brazil || Drama || Directed by – Pablo Larrain / Written by – Alfredo Castro, Mateo Iribarren, Pablo Larrain / Produced by – Juan Ignacio Correa, Mariane Harthard, Juan de Dios Larrain, Cao Quintas / Cinematography – Sergio Armstrong / Editing by – Andrea Chignoli / Production design – Polin Garbizu / Starring – Alfredo Castro / Running time: 97 mins.
If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be hilarious. This is the statement one thinks upon watching Tony Manero, which tells the story of Raul (Alfredo Castro), a man in his early fifties, obsesses with emulating John Travolta’s iconic role in Saturday Night Fever.
Raul’s determination to live the gimmick is represented by the way in which he shows no emotion as he religiously performs the dance steps. It also shows by the manipulative and cold way in which he reacts to the attentions given to him by friends, family and his lover. Not to mention that, throughout the film, he constantly commits immoral acts that go from being childish to remorselessly violent. All this specifically to prepare accordingly to a TV talent contest in which he will impersonate Manero. The succession of events unravel unflinchingly.
Pablo Larrain makes use of handheld camera work, that is as revealing of the pathetic nature of Raul as it is in embracing a type of unpredictability in its tension, and bare-boned authenticity. Tony Manero, is after all, driven and focused on its character, in a very non-judgemental way. Alfredo Castro, who also co-wrote the screenplay, turns in a powerful and magnetic deadpan performance that makes his anti-hero not so much polarizing as much as impossible not to feel sorry for or even side with, despite his obvious flaws and disagreeable ways.
While the concept is fresh and incredible on paper, it is also deepened by its cultural context. Tony Manero takes place in the late seventies, around the time of Saturday Night Fever’s release, during the Pinochet regime in Chile. Therefore, it looks at both sides of the medal as far as escapism is concerned. In a way, Raul’s obsession can even be seen as an alienation from political oppression. In another, he has completely bought into the globalisation of US culture by re-creating his own personality in the form of an American teenager. – 5/5