Image by Christine Renney
TONY MANERO (2008) – Directed by Pablo Larrain
This, the first film of what is now termed ‘The Chilean Trilogy’ by Larrain, is a riveting examination of what it is to be ambitious to such an extent that the lives of others hold no worth to the protaganist.
Raul, played by Alfredo Castro who appears in all three of the films, is obsessed by the character of Tony Manero in ‘Saturday Night Fever’, and aspires not just to imitate him but to become him. He leads a small, amateur dance troupe which performs in a café/bar to a few admirers of his ‘art‘. Raul is disinterested in the other members of the group (a mother, Cony, her daughter, Pauli, and Pauli’s boyfriend, Goya), except when they showcase his ‘talent’ and this is paramount. He is a cold character who is strangely desired by Cony and Pauli and yet when they try to engage him sexually he is unable to respond other than to masturbate. Raul has two interests only – himself and Tony Manero and thus he is rendered almost impotent by this narrow focus of life.
His psychopathic tendencies are depicted in several incidents involving those outside of his enclosed world – one shows an elderly woman in the street below his flat and whom Raul hears through his window calling for help. She is being attacked and robbed. Raul dresses quickly and makes his way downstairs to assist her. The victim thanks him profusely and he carries her shopping to her home where he is invited in. She talks to him but Raul does not respond. Raul sits with her for a while and then, suddenly and shockingly, stands over her and beats her death. He calmly eats a meal, feeds the old lady’s cat and steals the colour television which was her pride and joy and he carries it through the decaying streets of Santiago, avoiding the military patrolling the streets, to his home.
This disregard for the lives of others when they have something he desires is typical of those seeking absolute power because the goal is, to them, more important than what is lost in the gaining of it. Raul’s dream is to enter and win a televised competition where famous people are impersonated and the winner is the entrant who receives the most applause from their audience. The character of Tony Manero is to be the centre of one such show and Raul believes that he will be triumphant in taking the crown and puts all his efforts into ensuring this. His actions, when he finds out Goya is also intending to take part, are vengeful and humiliating such that I turned away from the screen the first time I watched the film. Raul has no empathy or generosity. Why he is like this can only be guessed at but whatever created the monster has taken over, sadly familiar to us in the real world.
The final scene shows Raul on the bus after the competition. He has not won but has been awarded second place. The winner, with his wife, is sitting a few spaces in front of Raul whose eyes burn into his rival’s back. We do not know what, if anything, happens next but we fear the worst. Raul is the minor Pinochet here and capable of anything.
This, the first of Larrain’s three works examining the Pinochet regime and times, is a powerful declaration against those who are admired by the rich and the ignorant. The second ’Post Mortem’, which deals with the advent of the military coup and the alleged suicide of Allende also places us in a world overwhelmed by violent events and the freedom it appears to grant those of us who are jealous and greedy to take what we want without punishment. The third ‘No’ depicts the campaign fought in 1988 to show the Chilean leaders that there was a swell of opinion turning against them and so is more factual but then sometimes the massacres and genocides that are committed do not seem anymore than fiction to those who have not experienced them.