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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Tony Manero: Disco killer

Who hasn't wanted to harm the projectionist? Sometimes it's because of technical problems. Sometimes it's because the movie just stinks.

Which brings me to the moviegoing habits of Raúl (Alfredo Castro). He's the wan 52-year-old at the center of the remarkable film Tony Manero, set in 1970s Chile, where Augusto Pinochet rules brutally. Raúl's favorite film is Saturday Night Fever. When he watches it alone in a Santiago cinema, he weeps. He imitates the dance moves and repeats the lines of John Travolta as Tony Manero, the disco Brooklynite. But when Saturday Night Fever's run ends, giving way to Grease, Raúl snaps. Mayhem in the projection booth follows.

Outside of the cinema, Raúl is the choreographer of a pathetic disco troupe that performs in a grungy nightclub. His ambition is to win the Tony Manero look-alike contest on television. Raúl also murders casually, which you might call unusual behavior. But Tony Manero is a bleak satire about the Pinochet years, when plainclothed government goons also murdered casually, in response to crimes that included carrying the wrong handbills.

Tony Manero is fascinating, and it's a welcome reminder that Saturday Night Fever is required viewing, and not as mere disco camp. That film - also about unhappy people seeking transcendence - exerts a remarkable hold on the serial killer Raúl, and on me.

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