Tony Manero

Surely one of the more repellent creations to inhabit arthouse screens this year, Raúl Peralta is a glowering brute of a man. Unemployed and undistracted in Pinochet’s Chile, he’s one of those desperate characters the movies are drawn to, nursing big, illusory dreams about turning his life around through a stonefaced, stiff impersonation of Tony Manero, the working-class Brooklyn dancer played by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. He sits through mostly empty matinee screenings at the local cinema, then rehearses his moves on the old, rotting stage at a squalid little nightclub while putting the make on the three women in his life: the club’s owner, Wilma (Elsa Poblete), his girlfriend, Cony (Amparo Noguera), and — why the hell not? — Cony’s nubile daughter Pauli (Paola Lattus). And he’s a rank opportunist who, as often as not, sees his countrymen each as minor obstacles between him and his next little stab at happiness.

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