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Crazy Grease

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain’s alarming Tony Manero is named not for its protagonist but rather his ego-ideal, John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever. The film, set in the dark days of the Pinochet regime, is a study of a solitary daydreamer in which an unsmiling 50-ish madman nurtures fanatical Bee Gees—fueled fantasies of disco glory. Raúl Peralta (played with total focus by stage actor Alfredo Castro) attends his favorite movie as if it were Sunday mass. He sometimes brings along his talismanic white suit as though it too needed to study Travolta’s moves. Raúl not only internalizes Tony’s version of the American Dream, but he memorizes Tony’s lines for use in the four-actor version of Saturday Night Fever he’s staging in a grungy Santiago cantina. Raúl’s obsession is complemented by a total disinterest in any human contact. Indifferent to Pinochet’s shabby police state, this ferret-like wannabe stops at nothing in his quest to be Chile’s Tony Manero. He violently appropriates an elderly lady’s color TV, spontaneously rips up the cantina to create space for a glass-tile floor, runs amok when he discovers that the theater he frequents has replaced Saturday Night Fever with Grease, and, most grotesquely, befouls a rival impersonator’s white suit. Feasting on this bizarre fascist posturing, Larrain suggests that, with his sordid charisma, Raúl is a miniature Pinochet — reproducing the brutality of the state in his willingness to steal, exploit, betray, and kill in the service of a fantasy.

Tony Manero plays at 8 tonight at Cinema Paradiso (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale); visit It plays at 2 p.m. at Lake Worth Playhouse (713 Lake Ave., Lake Worth), with more showings available until August 26; visit
Mon., Aug. 24, 3 p.m., 2009

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J. Hoberman
Contact: J. Hoberman

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