"'Tony Manero' is one of those movies that sneak up on you from behind and take a pickax to your head," proclaims Salon.com's Andrew O'Hehir, writing about the Cannes '08 Director's Fortnight entry, "Tony Manero." It opens in U.S. theaters today, starting off in New York City from newly christened Lorber Films. Chilean Pablo Larrain's second feature is the story of titular alter-ego Manero, described by O'Hehir as, "a disheveled 52-year-old man named Raul (played by veteran Chilean stage actor Alfredo Castro, who also co-wrote the script), whose life under the Pinochet dictatorship of the 1970s is dominated by his obsession with 'Saturday Night Fever'."
"More than an indelible portrait of a sociopath with the soul of a zombie, 'Tony Manero; is an extremely dark meditation on borrowed cultural identity," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times today.
Set in the 1970s in Pinochet-era Chile, the film -- starring Alfredo Castro, who also co-wrote the film -- is stirring passionate reactions from critics.
In The Village Voice, J Hoberman called the film "alarming" this week. He singled out the film's 16mm, "purposefully murky look" and "ultra-Dardenne camera."
"Chilean director Pablo Larrain's 'Tony Manero' must be one of the worst-looking movies ever submitted for Oscar consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category," writes MTV's Kurt Loder. "The picture is washed-out and blurry, contains some of the most dismal sex scenes outside of the Andy Warhol canon, and features a protagonist who's about as engaging as an abandoned luncheonette. Could this be ... art?" He later asks, "So what?"
"More than 'Taxi Driver', to which it shares a political leaning, 'Tony Manero' recalls some of Michael Haneke's notable works," writes Joe Bowman for the Gone Cinema Poaching blog. "Like a hybrid of 'Funny Games'' Paul (Arno Frisch) and 'The Piano Teacher''s Erika (Isabelle Huppert), Raul incorporates Erika's appalling acts of sadism with Paul's absence of remorse. He's not inhuman as much as he's beyond it, a product of the devastating reality of his world and Hollywood's endless dream-pushing."
Over at IFC, Matt Singer takes the opportunity to consider movies about obsessive fans. "Traditional obsessive fan movies grow out of a subcategory of thrillers involving stalkers," he writes, "Where an innocent invites a seemingly harmless person into their life, never suspecting their new friend or lover is a deranged, homicidal maniac until it's far too late. He focuses in on "Play Misty For Me," "Misery," of course Scorsese's "The King of Comedy," Tony Scott's "The Fan," and "Big Fan" from Sundance earlier this year. "For director Pablo Larrain, 'Tony Manero' is about how a foreign culture can pollute national ideas," writes Singer.
In the New York Press, Armond White offers a biting critique of the film, but starts with some thoughts on the year in film (and cinephilia) so far. "Cinephilia, meaning 'love of cinema', has been well served by the extraordinary range of good films released so far this year. As usual, it's not the big hits or consensus favorites that make a film-lover want to go back to the movies; it's the films most critics ignore first time around (but that you might catch belatedly on DVD) that confirm why movies matter.
And then he comes down hard on "Tony Manero." "Cinephilia--the smart-about-movies concept about the love of film--has been so distorted in contemporary movie culture that it has led to the repugnant Chilean film 'Tony Manero'", calling it a, "grungy diatribe [that] never let's up."
"There's more truth in YouTube clips of that hilarious Japanese TV show where celebrity lookalikes impersonate the We Are The World music video," White writes, "But Larrain emphasizes the drabness of Argentine life, a political ploy recalling the glum naturalism of '4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days' (but lacking empathy like the 1987 Brazilian film, 'Hour of the Star'). Leftist cinephiles consent to whatever odious premise an anti-American pessimist throws at them."
More: GreenCine Daily has a podcast interview with filmmaker Lorrain.