Friday, 24 April 2009

On Screen: Tony Manero murders the dancefloor

Tony Manero is the new film directed by Chilean Pablo Larraín, and was the winner at last year's Torino Film Festival, as well as being submitted to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film. A chilling, unforgettable piece of work, Tony Manero is notable for it's authenticity and strong character performances, not least from main protagonist Raul (Alfredo Castro).

Raul is besotted with John Travolta's character (Tony Manero) from late-70s blockbuster Saturday Night Fever; aping his every move in practise and performance, stopping at nothing to appear on a national TV competition as the 'Chilean Manero'. By nothing we mean murder (stealing a television from an old lady before feeding her none-too-wiser cat, before hitting a local labourer for glass to light up a dancefloor) and family betrayal (whilst his daughter gets caught up in political strife with police, Raul hides in a cupboard) to make his dream performance.

Castro's performance is nothing short of mesmerising; equal parts schizophrenic and camp, his manic, piercing eyes and brooding expressions mark a definite parrallel to Tony Montana of gangster epic Scarface. Indeed, there's also violence, vulgarity and seediness to add to Castro's unmissable performance. Surrounded by women in the household, Raul is a frustrated performer on the dancefloor and in the bedroom. He's the complete antithises to Travolta's dumb twinkle toes, as Saturday Night Fever's North American ideals clash against the brutal politics of 1978 Chile in the midst of General Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Scene after scene is supremely built, Raul's dancing scenes particularly potent alongside his criminal, brutal acts. The grace and delicateness he shows on the 'floor contrasts wildly with the overly masculine bravado and brute power displayed out on the streets.

Our favourite quote bookends the film, as first a television producer then the studio host ask Raul - "So, what do you do?" "This", he replies, meaning he'll go to any means to perform, to be Tony Manero.

A must see, though you'll never look at John Travolta the same way ever again.

Tony Manero was showing at the Cornerhouse in Manchester.

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