Raul (Alfredo Castro), a murderous, dully middle-aged Saturday Night Fever fanatic who blank-facedly bludgeons old ladies in the service of his Travolta impersonation while the violence of Pinochet’s Chile rises to a boil at the margins of Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero, which played at NYFF 2008, was the sort of monosyllabic, monomaniacal metaphor that doesn’t exist outside the international arthouse film. His more outre acts—brutalizing an elderly projectionist in a booth where Grease, not SNF, is playing; shitting on a rival’s white suit in a single, agile master take—played not just black comedy but also self-parody.
Like Raul, Larrain bites some of Tony Manero‘s moves in Post Mortem.
Early on, there’s a similar over-the-shoulder shot following the recessive Castro as he lurks backstage at a performance he’s not a part of—in this case, a local variety show in which his glam neighbor is a main attraction. Castro’s Mario, is a “functionario,” a bureaucrat who records the autopsy results (though he can’t type). As the bodies, including Salvador Allende’s, pile up at the local morgue, his obsession with the blond-wigged, anorexic Nancy is, as in Tony Manero, a symbol of the blindered, stunted obsession of the individual oblivious to, and thus enabling, the horrors of dictatorship.
But, though Larrain has some fun with his blunt, dopey dialogue, the gray, gnomic Castro’s obsession is far less inspired than in the frequently absurdly hilarious Tony Manero—and the parody seems far less intentional. Nancy, over at Mario’s to not eat dinner, starts crying; he forces himself to start crying too, and we watching them sobbing slobberingly in a static widescreen shot for an accepted amount of festival-film time, before Larrain cuts, off-rhythm (natch) to a closeup of them frantically fucking. This is all rather arbitrary, as is the sense of portenousness Larrain attempts to milk from Mario’s many silence and the morgue’s grim, sickly-colored interiors. (Though the Santiago exteriors are gray and gorgeous, shout on stock seemingly processed to look like a grainy, washed-out print dating from 1973.)