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The Strange Things Boutique




DVD . Network.

Made in Chile: Two Films by Pablo LarrainThis double bill of films from Pablo Larrain isn’t going to be to all tastes – in fact, I suspect many viewers will find these films rather heavy going. That’s not to say that they don’t have their rewarding moments – simply that neither film seems to have been made with any concessions towards entertaining the audience.

Post Mortem – also available as a slightly cheaper single disc edition – is the more recent, the more acclaimed and the harder to sit through. Set during the Chilean military coup in 1973, it follows civil servant Mario (Alfredo Castro), a withdrawn, silent figure with an unsettling haircut, as he embarks on a faltering romance with anorexic, aging showgirl and neighbour Nancy (Antonia Zegers). They are a fairly doomed pair – their first date consists of them both crying hysterical before some passionless sex – but Mario’s obsession sees him making grand gestures like securing her job at the run down cabaret by giving the manager his car. But it all seems in vain, as a more charismatic rival, a socialist agitator is on the scene.

As Pinochet’s army overthrows the President and takes over the streets, the bodies start to pile up in a series of genuinely unnerving scenes (rarely have corpses looked to real on film), but Mario stays detached from it all – continuing his job typing out autopsy reports, even as the army takes over the hospital and his colleagues break down. His only concern is to find Nancy, after her house was destroyed by the military. But when he does, his romantic illusions are shattered, and he takes his revenge in a cold but chilling way that, while perhaps not as emotionally wrenching as some have suggested (you’d need to give a damn about the characters for that to be the case), is nonetheless a grim climax to the story.

Post Mortem is bleak stuff – with funereal pacing, deliberately undeveloped and unappealing characters and lengthy takes, it’s often hard going, especially for the first hour. As the coup takes place, the film does develop a grimness that is quite effecting, but before threat, there’s simply too much of nothing happening. Slow cinema is an art form in itself, and when done well, has a hypnotic grip equal to any thriller – but this film doesn’t quite succeed in that. Instead, it feels very much like a movie for critics – very self-consciously designed to be admired rather than enjoyed.

Tony ManeroIronically, Tony Manero, presented here very much as the supporting feature, takes a similar style but weds it to a more interesting story, creating a more successful combination of art and entertainment. Set in 1979, Castro once again stars, this time as Paul Peralta, a fifty-two year old dancer who is fixated on John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever, a film he repeatedly, obessively watches in an empty cinema. While waiting to take part in a tacky TV lookalike contest, he sets up a dance troupe to do a dance show in a run-down hall, while struggling to pay for the glass bricks he needs for an underfloor light show. Peralta is not a man to allow anything to get in the way of his dreams, and is more than willing to murder to get the money, as well as seducing his girlfriend’s daughter and literally shitting on a rival performer’s chances by despoiling his white suit.

Castro’s insular, unemotive character here is more developed, more interesting – and much more sociopathic – his bursts of violence are shocking because they come out of nowhere, and his single-mindedness is skilfully portrayed. The political backdrop to the film is ever-present, sometimes upfront – when the police state murders anti-Pinochet protesters – and sometimes more subtle, with all characters justly suspicious and paranoid. In the end, the film seems to present its lead character as a brutalised man in a brutalised society.

Structurally, the film is similar to Post Mortem – long takes, no incidental music, a slow and steady pace. It works more effectively here though, because there is a stronger story and better-defined – if no more likeable – characters. The film also has some surprisingly earthy and explicit sex scenes - more sensitive viewers be warned.

Tony Manero is good enough to make this double bill worth investing in, though neither film is entertaining in the traditional sense. As exercises in cinematic minimalism, they are fascinating. But Post Mortem in particular also feels like hard work. Rewarding work perhaps, but hard.






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