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Tony Manero 

Wednesday, Sep 9 2009
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Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain’s alarming Tony Manero—set in the dark days of the Pinochet regime and named not for its protagonist but rather his ego-ideal, John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever—is a study of a cinema-struck, solitary daydreamer in which an unsmiling 50-ish madman nurtures fanatical Bee Gees–fueled fantasies of disco glory. Played with total focus by stage actor Alfredo Castro (who co-wrote the screenplay), Raúl Peralta attends his favorite movie as if it were Sunday mass—sometimes bringing along his talismanic white suit as though it, too, needed to study Travolta’s moves. Raúl not only internalizes Tony’s version of the American Dream, but memorizes Tony’s lines for use in the four-actor version of Saturday Night Fever he’s staging in a grungy Santiago cantina. Raúl’s obsession is complemented by a total disinterest in any human contact. Indifferent to Pinochet’s shabby police state, this ferret-like wannabe stops at nothing in his quest to be Chile’s Tony Manero. He violently appropriates an elderly lady’s color TV, spontaneously rips up the cantina to create space for a glass-tile floor, runs amok when he discovers that the theater he frequents has replaced Saturday Night Fever with Grease, and, most grotesquely, befouls a rival impersonator’s white suit. Feasting on this bizarre fascist posturing, Larrain suggests that, with his sordid charisma, Raúl is a miniature Pinochet—reproducing the brutality of the state in his willingness to steal, exploit, betray, and kill in the service of a fantasy.
Sept. 11-17, 2009

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J. Hoberman

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