Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tony Manero

Directed by Pablo Larraín.
2008. Rated R, 98 minutes, Spanish.
Alfredo Castro
Paola Lattus
Héctor Morales
Amparo Noguera
Elsa Poblete

Ask movie critics to name the greatest American dance movies and they’re likely to recite the titles of films starring Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. No offense to those classics, but in the hearts of regular folks they were dethroned in 1978 by a little movie named Saturday Night Fever. At the time, it was the epitome of cool. It’s arguably the absolute peak of the disco era. Thirty years later, lead character Tony Manero is still the role most associated with John Travolta.

Apparently, the fictional Manero is an icon in Chile, also. When we meet Raul (Castro) in the days shortly after the film became a global phenomenon, he’s trying to get on a cheesy TV show that’s holds look-alike contests every week. He has shown up the week they’re doing Chuck Norris. He’s told he’s in the right place because they ask people to register a week in advance. Next week they’re doing Tony Manero. Very shortly, we find out he’s also the lead dancer in a SNF tribute show he’s constantly rehearsing for. It’s put on at the cantina that he lives above. The rest of his troupe includes his girlfriend, her daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend. Of course, he plays Manero. Seemingly, once a day he makes it down to the local movie theater which is currently running SNF. Clearly, he’s obsessed.

Raul’s obsession of choice, combined with the fact that he’s over 50 years old might seem a bit off putting. However, its just quirky enough to root for. What works against him, because it mortifies us, is that he’s a bad guy. I mean, he’s really a bad guy. His fixation on becoming the best Tony Manero he can be drives him to nearly unfathomable depths. Suffice it to say, as far as he’s concerned, murder is always a viable option. There is a political element at work here, as well. It is set during the early days of the Pinochet dictatorship. The director, Pablo Larraín, is known to be critical of his own culture. In this instance, could he implying that his people’s fixation on western culture is unhealthy?

The small dance troupe, plus the lady that owns the cantina make up Raul’s inner-circle. They’ve no idea of the atrocities he’s committing against the local population, but he’s hardly nice to them, either. He’s brooding, self-centered and has a hair-trigger temper. Still, the women involved pretty much throw themselves at him. It makes some sense because they’re a tight, if often bickering unit. We get the impression these ladies a) are horny and b) don’t get out as much as they used to. This makes him the most viable option. He soaks it all in, remorselessly doing whatever he pleases. Ironically, this doesn’t include actual sex. Despite his best efforts, we see him fail, time and again, in graphically miserable fashion. Another stab at our decadent lifestyle, perhaps? Maybe, this is a dig at those in power in Chile at the time. Both?

Through it all, the focus on his goal remains. The contest Raul wants so badly to win is rapidly approaching and the man he wants so badly to be is fleeting. The steps he takes toward achieving both goals repulses us. However, because of those steps his determination is almost admirable. He comes to define the word antihero. Possible politics aside, this a truly fascinating character study. When the credits roll, we’re not completely sure how we feel about it even though we know how we should feel. It seems Raul has much more in common with another 70s American movie icon, Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver.

No comments:

Post a Comment