Tony Manero

(2008) Pablo Larrain. DVD

American cultural artifacts may prove to evolve into objects of salvation when exported to emerging countries run by dictators.

Raul, 52 years old, is a jobless bum with thin jowls like unwashed bathroom walls. Raul lives with a woman, her mother and daughter, and their young styly activist gaypanion, Goyo. All three women vent themselves sexually upon Raul, though as a sexual being Raul is without potency.

Raul is violently obsessed with the 1977 disco movie Saturday Night Fever, which is playing at the local movie house. Raul can't dance, but he and his small dance troupe are going to put on a Saturday Night Fever show for the town locals, equally oppressed, and in order to do it right, Raul kills an old lady and sells her TV, and murders the junkyard keeper who upped the price of the glass bricks which Raul desires to use to illuminate the dance floor. But Raul, enthralled by the potential of the glass bricks, installs them in his bedroom and lights them up.

It is 1978 in a small city in Chile. Soldiers patrol the streets in jeeps. When Augusto Pinochet's goons come asking questions at the house of Raul's troupe, it is not because a movie projectionist was inexplicably murdered by Raul, his head bashed in during a screening of Grease, but because Goyo has been handing out subversive pamphlets against the regime.

Each week, a  local TV game-show program hosts a Pop Icon lookalike contest. The slick, hackneyed, airbrushed Hispanoid emcee is as complicit in the fascism as any torturer.  One week the lookalike is Chuck Norris, the American chop-socky bandana fatigues maverick. A bunch of hopeless South American Chuck Norris lookalikes show up to kick showbiz ass.  Another week the lookalike is Julio Iglesias. Where Chuck Norris is a blonde-bearded Wonder Bread patriot, Tony Manero is ethnic, dark, exotic, akin to the mixed Euro immigrant roots of Chileans (in a way that Julio Iglesias is not).

Brooklyn in 1977 was a rough place, but the death squads worked against, not for, the government. Raul is no subversive, rebel, ideologue nor dancer. He is a malignant third-world zero man. The U.S. may have exported La Fever, but it also exported the diplomatic training of political killing machines.

"Tony Manero," a working-class disco American icon, is a disconnected hero for Raul.  Raul is a purveyor of violence for his own selfish ends and he doesn't care about any of the people close to him. While the troupe is victimized by the death squad goons, Raul hides, then flees to the Tony Manero game-show contest.  But first he destroys Goyo's opportunity in the contest by taking a malnourished crap on Goyo's fancy white suit.

Like in Observe & Report (2009), Raul sublimates an utter fantasy of himself through violence, as a victim of raging times recycling rage. One hopes that Raul will win the contest, so that all the bloodshed at least will have had a sicko vindication. But Raul gets second place, and sits behind the winner and his pretty young wife, with their prize electric blender, on the public bus, with the eyes of a starved, crippled assassin.

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