Few would describe the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a homicidal disco dancer, but Pablo Larrain’s period allegory makes a stunning case for comparison. Ral (Castro), an aging John Travolta impersonator, bullies, steals and kills in his effort to be crowned Chile’s own Saturday Night Fever star on a ’70s TV game show. The celebrity obsessive’s brazen abuses go unnoticed in Pinochet’s societal wasteland; crime breaks out in broad daylight while patrolmen focus on hunting Communists. As the CIA-backed fascist controls his populace with aspirational capitalist rhetoric and martial intimidation, Ral mixes disco moves, recitations of Hollywood dialogue and violent rages to captivate his troupe.
Ral is a thoroughly repugnant creation, but Alfredo Castro’s performance endows him with a resourceful ferocity that’s both chilling and awe-inspiring. His stone-faced Al Pacino visage is less Tony Manero than Tony Montana, with the film’s serial killer similarly high on blind ambition. Larrain deftly employs a Dardennes-style in-the-moment handheld lensing, managing a high-wire act in which audience disgust is outpaced by breathless anticipation. Chained to a psychotic antihero’s point of view, you’re immersed and implicated in totalitarian squalor, where fantasy and brutality thrive. Ral’s escapist desperation seeps from his own boogie wonderland into our minds; the results are hard to shake.—Kevin B. Lee
Opens Fri; Cinema Village. Find showtimes
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Mateo Iribarren, Alfredo Castro, Pablo Larraín|