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Tony Manero | Review

Doing it for the Dance Floor: Disco goes hand in hand with Dictatorship.

Despite wearing the same threads, sharing the same dance moves, and it all taking place in, more or less, during the same calendar year, similarities between the fictitious personalities of Saturday Night Fever’s iconic character and Cannes’ Director Fortnight’s Chilean entry work couldn’t be more different. For starters, the central character in Pablo Larrain’s bold, imaginative and hyper violent commentary on Pinochet’s government rule is triple the age of the John Travolta’s character, but more importantly, Larrain devises this character to personify the brutality of a government responsible for torture, murder and the disappearance of many of its people. Tony Manero manages to take this gloomy period in Chile’s history and thematically infuse it in a chaotic main character. Despite the extremely violent depictions, and a sometimes harshly looking handheld grade of the picture, this is one set of outbursts worth stomaching.

Set during the curfew controlled, dog eat dog atmosphere that once besieged Chile’s capital city of Santiago, there are apparent strands of normalcy allowed to perforate the tense climate. Disco dance lessons, movie theaters with American films and popular, ditzy televisions variety shows are available to all, but the narrative is there to remind us that this is a false sense of refuge. Screenplay duties shared between Larrain, the film’s lead Alfredo Castro and Mateo Iribarren assure that the pictures’ protagonist dives back and forth between banal daily life existence and a compulsiveness that keeps the story’s pulse constantly on the edge. In between the dance rehearsals, the careful navigation of the neighborhood streets and perfecting his moves and mannerisms in view of the upcoming television competition, Castro’s Raul (the actor looks like a worn out version of a 1970’s/80’s Al Pacino) fits the anti-hero model. Perhaps a term ‘psycho’ is more fitting, especially when he goes from helping an elderly victimized woman who has just been mugged and then in turn starts whaling on her, or, when he does whatever it takes needs to build the replica disco dance floor. Castro desires a word of mention for taking on such an ugly character.

Oddly enough, the 50-plus year-old with black shoe polish colored hair also happens to be a magnate for the opposite sex. A circle of women only knowing his brute mannerisms and professionalism on the makeshift dance floor haven’t got a clue as to where his obsession ends. What is fascinating about character is his since of normalcy, he lacks a moral compass from which to work from and the ascension of his obsessive behavior adds unpredictability to the tone of the film. The out of focus, handheld aesthetics, muted and degraded colors add a touch of realism and vintage to the film, and for a period pic working with such a politically charged subject matter, Tony Manero takes a risky, disturbing, but rewarding road in deciphering the air of the moment.

Reviewed at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (Section: Main Competition Un Certain Regard, Director’s Fortnight, Critic’s Week)

May 17th, 2008. Running time: 92 MIN.

Rating 3.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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