As any self-respecting Saturday Night Fever fan will tell you, Tony Manero is the name of the white suit-wearing dancer who made John Travolta a by-word for cool. The premise of Pablo Larrain’s sophomore movie is like a disco nightmare. It’s 1978 in Chile and 50-something Raul Peralta (Alfredo Castro) spends his time watching John Badham’s 1977 classic film and dreams of one day winning a Manero lookalike contest. As in Harmony Korine’s Highland-set Mr Lonely, the protagonist’s desire to be a doppelganger is used as a metaphor for identity crisis and alienation.
Larrain’s sophisticated and macabre film has more depth and insight than Korine’s, and Peralta’s infatuation with Manero is portrayed as analogous to that of the South American country, where at the time, the recently installed dictator General Pinochet had begun to embrace American style capitalism. The fear and confusion that state of affairs caused amongst everyday Chileans is shown through Peralta’s depravity and sinister criminal turn.
For all the images of Travolta strutting his stuff, it’s not Saturday Night Fever that’s the touchstone here for director Larrain, for this unsettling little film has far more in common with the tales of masculine alienation as depicted by Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver and Sam Peckinpah in Straw Dogs.
Selected release from Fri 10 Apr. See profile.