Tony Manero (2008)

Directed by Pablo Larrain

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 7.20.22 PM

There’s some overlap between the physicality of violence and dancing, or at least they seem to be paralleled in certain movies and media.  In the music video to The Shoes’ “Time to Dance” Jake Gyllenhaal plays a serial killer whose compulsion seems to come from his inability to dance (so he just watches others dance), in Claire Denis’ Beau Travail a military man leaves one man to die, then lies in bed with a clutched pistol before we cut to him in a night club, slowly blossoming into an acrobatic dance routine (perhaps some vision of an afterlife).  There’s even Rocky, wherein Rocky Balboa, when asked why he deals with the physical assault one faces in the boxing ring, says simply that it’s because he can’t sing or dance.

So I’m not sure, they just seem to be made similar in the contexts of movies, maybe because both acts are so viscerally alive and even exciting onscreen.  In Tony Manero, Raúl Peralta (Alfredo Castro) idolizes the dancing Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever, and the film will culminate with a daytime tv show competition in which he is one of several Manero imitators who do their best routine to try and win a blender.  Oh yeah, he also kills several innocent people out of the blue.

What a fascinating, troubled figure.  He brings to mind Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), Lou Bloom (Nightcrawler) and Al Pacino, simply because here he looks so much like Tony Montana (Scarface).  He’s a character with feral instincts, like a perpetually cornered rabid dog.  His goal is frighteningly simple, and his means are similarly direct.  If you stand between him and a desired object, he’ll take the straightest route and go right through you.

Because of his infatuation with Tony Manero, Peralta seems like an apt metaphor for the both the connection and divide between a first world country like America and a poorer nation like Chile.  In between Manero’s dancing and killing we are made to feel the outright danger on the streets in a city like his.  The police are corrupt, elderly women are assaulted and robbed, and then you have our protagonist, out there wreaking silent havoc.

The world might feel completely alien to many viewers, and yet that iconography, of the disco dancing Tony Manero remains the most prominent image.  It is as though the only thing that could possibly spread from a country like America is that which can be bought and sold, a cultural icon which inspires a form if idolatry.  It’s right there, almost as if Manero or John Travolta can be tangibly touched, and yet the world of this movie is a far cry from that of Saturday Night Fever.

So in that divide there seems to be something about how the dream persists, even if it’s frighteningly out of reach. Raúl Peralta is a sociopath wrapped up in a dream, something palatable because it’s the image of a character carefully crafted so as to be pleasing, and yet once that veneer washes away, he’s just a heartless killer.

So I’m not sure exactly what that is, just that this all feels so surreal and out of this world, and yet that landmark of a character reminds us that a place as corrupt and overrun with violence and poverty like this most definitely exists.

The dancing, then, feels almost weaponized.  It carries the scent of the violence which precedes it.  It might just be dancing, all viscerally appealing and whatnot, or it might be something more sinister, calculated cultural cachet.  Either way there is a comparison here between the dancing and violence, between a place desperate for but short on hope and a celluloid manifestation of it.

Up Next: Tender Mercies (1983), Alphaville (1965), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)

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