Thursday, March 26, 2009

HKIFF Film review 影評: Tony Manero 周末殺人狂熱- Just a psychopath?

Director: Pablo Larrain
Starring: Alfredo Castro, Amparo Noguera, Paola Lattus, Héctor Morales, Elsa Poblete

Length: 98 min
Year: 2008

Raul (Alfredo Castro) is a 52 year old man with only one goal: to give the best impersonation of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever 週末夜狂熱. He's staging the dance act with a bunch of amateurs at a local restaurant, but he's aiming for a bigger prize: winning a lookalike contest on a TV variety show. But his dedication takes a murderous turn...

As the premise suggests, Tony Manero can easily be a darkly comedic skit on obsession. Raul is Tony Manero- he uses his name, he gets the same suit, he rehearses the same dance routine, and
he repeatedly watches Fever to get every detail exactly right. Occasional out-of-focus shots further add to the depersonalisation of Raul. He stops at nothing, and even resorts to violence, to reach full immersion into the character. His acts and antics are both repulsive and humorous, and Castro does a good job playing Raul as a rather pathetic and unfeeling man.

But not satisfied (and rightly so) with mere oddball caricature, director Pablo Larrain sets the film in 1970s Chile, during General Pinochet's rule, and makes Tony Manero a potent social and political allegory. Army patrols, summary executions, the secret police- the lawlessness of the government breeds the lawlessness of its citizens, and perhaps Raul is the personification of the 'anything goes' brutality. The political critique in Tony Manero isn't pointed, but pervasive.

The poverty of Raul's environment, complemented with the grey and grainy lensing, adds another dimension to his character. Though Raul never voices this, his fellow dancers clearly think this act is their getaway key out of the ghetto. While the film doesn't humanise Raul, several scenes, including
the telling use of local music and Raul's almost religious experience in watching a certain crucifix scene in Fever, hints to some undercurrents in his character.

We may be witnessing a case of the intoxicating effects of pop culture as a means for escapism, or someone who simply wants to escape from his surroundings, whatever it takes. And it's the eventual TV dance off and its aftermath, with Castro's gestures and movements, that leaves further room for interpretation. All these subtexts add up to make Tony Manero an occasionally amusing, but ultimately a rich, haunting character study.

Tony Manero is showing in the HKIFF.