Tony Manero is not a name often associated with Chile’s dark days under Pinochet’s regime. For those unacquainted with the 1971 film Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero is the charismatic character John Travolta plays.
Naturally the question to consequently follow is how exactly do the dots of Saturday Night Fever and Pinochet connect? In a simple response, through Pablo Larrain’s latest feature Tony Manero. But in actuality, the answer is not that easy.
Derived by both Larrain and actor Alfredo Castro, Tony Manero makes political and social commentary on Chile (and the United States, simultaneously). Released in 1978 in Chile, Saturday Night Fever came about in one of the bleakest and most miserable times during General Augusto Pinochet’s rule. Director Pablo Larrain and actor Alfredo Castro shared the role of writer, and as the film shows, were able to develop a story that not only exists in allegorical, but also in literal terms.
On the surface, it seems that the film is merely about a social outsider who is unable to break his obsession with Saturday Night Fever and consequently the American Dream. Because of his deep commitment to the film, he finds himself in a routine of watching it in the local theatre repeatedly, auditioning for Chile’s version of Saturday Night Fever, and eventually embodying a dark mutilated version of the character Tony Manero and perhaps Pinochet himself.
With the historical understanding of Chile and the time period, Tony Manero embodies the psychological process of living in a country that undergoes a deep cultural change, which defines how citizens act and relate to the world.
The film has garnered quite a bit of attention as of late. In a recent article from the Village Voice, J. Hoberman writes,
“Impassive but alert, Raúl not only internalizes Tony’s version of the American dream, but memorizes Tony’s lines for use in the four-actor version of Saturday Night Fever he’s staging, with an inexplicably adoring cult of losers, in a grungy Santiago cantina. Raúl’s obsession is complemented by a total disinterest in any human contact… Feasting on this bizarre fascist posturing, Larrain suggests that, with his sordid charisma, Raúl is a miniature Pinochet—reproducing the brutality of the state in his willingness to steal, exploit, betray, and kill in the service of a fantasy.”
Larry Rohter from the New York Times also did a piece on the film that is worth checking out.
As Pablo Larrain stated in an interview,
“I wanted to tell the little story of a man obsessed with what is foreign to him, who lives in a country going through the cultural process which defined our actual way of acting and relating to the world. A prowl on the process of a common man and what surrounds him; or as well, a fragment of something bigger that cannot be seen, because finally, the dance of Raul Peralta’s is, to me, the dance of all Latin-Americans. The dangerous air of underdevelopment and it’s delirious wild abandon that saw itself very much exposed and threatened during the seventies, in the middle of the military dictatorships that struck our region.” (Tony Manero Press Packet)
And that he does.
Tony Manero screens as a part of the Premieres: First Look Series in the Walker Cinema September 11, 7:30 pm, September 12, 4:00 pm, September 12, 7:30 pm, September 13, 3:00 pm. For more information, visit the Walker website.