Obsession can be a dangerous thing for a lot of people. For every few people with a healthy interest in something, it seems there are a few who take that healthy interest to an unhealthy extreme, almost always resulting in some sort of bizarre behavior. Studying obsession, be in through whatever psychological method you'd care to name or by way of a brilliant work of fiction, can be pretty fascinating, however. Which brings us to Tony Manera, a film by Chilean director Pablo Larrain.
For those who didn't already make the connection, Tony Manera is the name of the character that John Travolta played in Saturday Night Fever, which is the film that a man named Raul (Alfredo Castro) has been obsessing over since he first saw it a year ago, catching it on the big screen as often as he can, frequently in empty theaters. The film is set in 1978, so there isn't really a home video market per se, so Raul spends a fair bit of time in front of the big screen emulating the dance moves and dialogue he sees play out in front of him night after night. Outside of the theater, Raul shows off the dance moves he's learn from the movie in a rundown bar where only his girlfriend, a couple of haggard looking women, and a teenager seem all that impressed. Raul is a far cry from the lithe Tony Manero of the movies, he's a rough looking fifty-something who can't get it up anymore and whose better years are far behind him. While Raul dances the night away, the streets of Santiago suffer from the presence of the military and from the political unrest that is growing all around them.
As Raul's world starts to decay, so too does his psyche. We see him take a woman home after she's been mugged, assuming he's going to help her, only to see him beat her further, to death even, and steal her television. From there, Raul grows colder and colder, killing frequently for material possessions he can't afford, all the while trying to recreate the dance floor from Saturday Night Fever in his favorite bar and trying to win a Tony Manero impersonation contest on television.
While Tony Manero isn't the fasted paced picture ever made, those with an appreciation for a twisted slow burn of a film will find a lot to enjoy about this Chilean import. First off is Alfredo Castro's performance in the lead role as Raul. His portrayal of a man whose obsession causes him to slowly but very surely slip out of touch with reality and regress into severe antisocial behavior in the truest sense of the word is a thing of macabre beauty. The picture does take its time getting going but Castro slips into the role so naturally, for better or worse, that it's not really a problem dealing with the more languid aspects of how the picture is put together. You will have no trouble believing him as the outcast that he is in this picture and at times his performance is slightly reminiscent of DeNiro's work in Taxi Driver, a picture which this film has a little bit in common with (though the most apt comparison, as far as Hollywood productions go, is The Fan).
The film, despite its quirky subject matter, is surprisingly bleak and the gritty look of the low income Santiago neighborhood in which the film is placed lends itself quite well to the tone of the picture. Crime is a problem here, no one has much going for them in the way of opportunity, and many of those that Raul is surrounded by are destined to spend their lives in the same sort of squalid conditions he himself lives in. The city is a mean bitch in this film, not a warm and inviting metropolis but a dark and dreary gotham that plays a very important role in the look, the feel, the tone and ultimately the very outcome of the story that Larrain and his cast and crew are telling here. It works incredibly well, and while this is absolutely a film that's going to fly under a lot of peoples' radars, it's nevertheless definitely worth seeking out.
Tony Manero was shot with a sort of pseudo-documentary look to it, so the cinematography doesn't always lend itself to the prettiest of styles but the gritty aesthetic works quite well in the context of the story that the movie tells. There are scenes that look a little murky, the darker bits in particular, and there's a bit of crush noticeable in the night time scenes but skin tones look good, if maybe a bit (intentionally?) pale. Detail isn't bad - close up shots look quite good, but there are moments of softness throughout the movie, though these too appear to be intentional. The transfer generally looks as good as it needs to - if it had been pristine and sparkly clean it would have taken away from the desired effect.
The film is presented in a good Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, in Spanish with English subtitles. The sound is generally pretty strong, with the music spread out nicely and the levels properly balanced. Bass response is noticeable if not mind blowing while dialogue is pretty consistent in that it's always easy enough to hear and doesn't get buried in the sound effects or the score. The subtitles are clean and clear and easy to follow and free of any typographical errors.
Aside from a menu and chapter stops, the only extra on this disc is the film's original theatrical trailer, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The film really would have benefited from a commentary or a good featurette just to shed some background information on this odd little film, but the movie itself is so damn bizarre that it's still worth picking this one up, particularly if you have an affinity for... horror and disco? Either way, Tony Manero is one of those odd films that manages to be simultaneously creepy, funny, sad and unsettling all at the same time. The disc only gets a 'recommended' rating because of the lack of extras, but this is absolutely worth seeing, and more than once at that.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.