Against the backdrop of General Pinochet’s dictatorship in Santiago de Chile in 1979, this gritty Chilean film portrays a repressed society in absolute decay: crime, death, dilapidation.
Protagonist Raúl Peralta is a fifty-something year old obsessed with Tony Manero, John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever. Peralta dedicates his life to mimicking Manero, strutting and disco-dancing, as an attempt to break away from the despondency of his situation. We learn early on that he longs to be a showbiz star and when a Tony Manero impersonation television show is announced – he is presented with an opportunity to follow his dreams. In his attempts to grasp them, the film follows him on a journey into the darkest depths, watching him cheat and commit obscene crimes. No one around him bats an eyelid for they are living in an era desensitized to the most vicious violence.
The warm, fuzzy feeling created by the film's hip-swiveling soundtrack, accompanied by Peralta's comical dance moves, is a stark contrast to the silent, shocking, distressful scenes of violence that all occur so rapidly that one can almost forget that this venomous yet lovable character commits them: in the end the audience cannot help but want him to succeed. This is also due to Alfredo Castro’s phenomenal performance, producing this grotesque harlequin of a character with barely dialogue.
Pablo Larrain’s 98-minute film is depressing and hard to watch due to the motion-sick camera technique used, which continuously blurs and refocuses. However, it constructs an extreme sense of realism, which I believe to be vital to the film’s context.
The film, which is playing at CineHoyts cinemas across Santiago, has been Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film and has received a plentiful amount of interest at multiple foreign and European film festivals.