A Chilean man obsessed with Saturday Night Fever goes on a violent killing spree during the regime of Augusto Pinochet. Noel Megahey reviews Pablo Larraín’s feature, out this week.
There is however more to Tony Manero-the film than it being the escapist ideal of an impressionable, sexually impotent, emotionally disturbed man reacting against the grim reality of the world he lives in. Through the incongruity of an aging Chilean man in a three-piece white suit creating his own makeshift world on the model of Saturday Night Fever, director Pablo Larraín’s film would seem to be making a point about the creation of Pinochet’s brutal regime through the imposition and influence of American culture and values on a country where they just don’t fit. While the younger members of his dance troupe for example are involved in clandestine action against Pinochet’s dictatorship, surreptitiously printing and distributing leaflets denouncing the regime, Raúl is more concerned about the details of a double-button on the trousers of his Tony Manero suit, the technicalities of building a glass dance-floor with coloured underfloor lighting and eliminating any competition for the televised lookalike contest.
It’s an fair point, one that makes more than a nod to Fellini’s Ginger and Fred, but the use of Saturday Night Fever is an imperfect example of the influence of American values or even just as an example of the persuasive power of Hollywood cinema to corrupt a foreign mindset, if that is indeed the director’s intention. There are surely other examples of mindless Hollywood fluff entertainment from this period better suited towards this aim (and indeed the replacement of Saturday Night Fever with Grease at the local flea-pit does provoke an appropriately extreme reaction with Raúl). While this leads to some inconsistencies or even just plain baffling behaviour on the part of the characters to make its point, the imperfection of the model is to some extent intentional and the sheer grotesquery that results in the family relationships and from the powerful juxtaposition that Larraín makes between the political climate of fear, sudden arrest and death alongside the absurdity of the lengths Raúl goes to in order to win a lookalike contest on television, is likely to provoke a very strong, often unsettling and frankly very disturbing impression indeed.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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