At the World Cinema Showcase, a man obsessed. By BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM.

THE GERMANS made a great fist at exploring sociopaths at times of great social cruelty in their cinema. On the basis of Tony Manero, it looks like the Chileans have got in the act too – this is a bleak, bleak film looking at a sociopath during the Pinochet era. Raúl is obsessed with the character of Tony Manero – John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever – so much so that he’s willing to go to rather extreme lengths to live out his fantasy. And while disco was seen as the ultimate escapism in the late 70s, an excess which ignored the economic shocks (and particularly in its early days, the racism and homophobia of everyday society), the escapism envisaged by this film is rather chilling. Unfortunately for Raúl, when his fantasy is being able to impersonate Tony Manero on a shitty Chilean variety show, the film’s hardly making a point about the redemptive power of popular culture.

For some this film will be too dark. Pablo Larraín would probably be happy with that. His rigorous mise-en-scène emphasises shadows and darkness, and rarely gives a full view of the brutal emotions. The cutting is jagged and disorientating, and the shots are sometimes not in focus. While there is some humour, it requires someone with a penchant for black comedy to laugh (I must confess to laughing while Raúl was watching Grease). And the characters offer very little light themselves – Raúl is an unbelievably horrifically man. It says something that when he shits on a rival’s white suit to prevent him from competing against him, that that’s at the lower scale of the offending. The other characters aren’t the loveliest beings either. The great acting and the energetic camerawork help propel the film.

Larraín also critiques Pinochet as a result – and he does so in an indirect and non-obvious way. Casual juxtapositions, random moments when Pinochet’s secret police enter the proceedings and visual references all maintain a steady undertone of darkness. But the film also offers a deeper explanation as to the cruelties of the Pinochet regime. Pinochet was able to maintain such terror over the population (despite the best efforts of a number of contemporary revisionists to downplay Pinochet’s crimes) through the buy-in of his tactics by ordinary Chileans. Police States require individuals to be well, individuals – betray neighbours, nark on others to the state apparatuses, do anything to get ahead. When pop culture appears to be the only salvation, it’s little wonder that its manifestations and machinations get drawn into the same brutal process by these same individuals. Tony Manero is a wonderful, unheralded film, a deeply unsettling portrayal of an individual in a vicious society.