The story of a 52 year old Chilean man, Raúl Peralta (Alfredo Castro), obsessed with Saturday Night Fever competing in a television show’s Tony Manero-lookalike competition seems perfectly pitched for a light-hearted comedy. A farce featuring oblivious characters trying their best, failing, but learning something important in the process.
Tony Manero is not that film.
This is a film of 1978 Chile, a country under the rule of fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet. It’s simultaneously a portrait of what it was like to live under the government – Peralta’s dance troupe oppose the government, attracting unwanted police attention – and an allegory for Pinochet’s rule.
You see, Peralta is no kindly grandfather, but a cruel, selfish man, an obvious avatar for Pinochet’s regime. I only have a passing familiarity with Chile’s history, but it is not difficult to see Peralta’s obsession with “Fever” as analogous to the dictator’s ties to the US government (and currency). Peralta is a profoundly unlikable protagonist (befitting his ties to Pinochet); his ambition to construct a disco dancefloor sees him commit murder and theft without compunction. This is not a family-friendly comedy, but a confronting experience, one that gives stomach-churning insight into the horror of Chile’s recent past.