Film Review: Tony Manero

13 Apr

*****

In an era when celebrity hero-worship is actively encouraged, via shows such as The X Factor and series following footballer’s wives as they go to the shops, new film Tony Manero’s depiction of one man’s obsession with John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever sounds perfectly normal.

Set in Santiago de Chile in 1978, Alfredo Castro stars as social outcast Raúl Peralta, hungry and desperate to have some identity in a country with little interest in the individual. Manero represents freedom and the American dream, a far cry from the dictatorship he finds himself living under.

When a local TV station runs a competition for the best Tony Manero impersonator, Peralta sees an opportunity to prove his worth. Rehearsing with friends, Peralta’s desire to win soon leads to a trail of crime that starts to rob him of his humanity.

It’s fair to say that the trailer for Tony Manero is somewhat misleading, though I won’t go into detail here in case of spoiling some of the more shocking events which befall our “hero”.

Watching Peralta attempt to escape his situation, replacing drudgery and oppression with something far more modern and glossy, is also a comment on his country. Chilean culture has become increasingly dominated by the USA, leading to problems in its society that only seem to get worse.

Alfredo Castro is never exactly likeable as Peralta, yet it’s often difficult to dislike him, even when his personality can be seen to be increasingly desperate.

Director Pablo Larraín brings the gritty city backstreets to life, the sight of the army crawling through alleys and threatening residents safety a chilling one.

Dark humour is threaded through the film, giving a modicum of levity to an otherwise bleak tale. Watching Tony Manero may not be a fun experience, but it is a rewarding one, the film succeeding as both a commentary on a world far from our own and as a thriller in its own right.

Tony Manero is in cinemas now

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