Children see more than they understand, and understand more than they know. Their intense, limited way of perceiving the world, sometimes sentimentally rendered as moral innocence, is one of the reasons they are frequently placed at the center of movies about war, revolution and other forms of social upheaval and political disaster. Gonzalo (Matías Quer), the 11-year-old boy at the center of Andrés Wood's "Machuca," is warily edging toward adolescence, preoccupied with the petty brutality of the schoolyard and the unspoken miseries of his upper-middle class Santiago household.
But because his coming of age takes place in Chile in 1973, his ordinary hardships, joys and rites of passage are charged with inordinate tension. The audience, aware from the start that the military coup against Salvador Allende's government lurks on the horizon, feels their sympathy for this child -- and their more general nostalgia for childhood -- shadowed by anxiety and dread.
For the most part Mr. Wood, who based the film on events from his own early life, confines the story to Gonzalo's perspective. Intimations of Chile's volatile political situation pop up almost casually, via the television set, graffiti in the street and overheard adult conversations. But there is no queston that Gonzalo's private world, like his country, is in a state of ferment. A soft-faced, passive boy, he is forced to accompany his mother (Aline Küppenheim) on visits to her lover, an older, wealthy sensualist who buys the boy's complicity with handsome bound editions of Lone Ranger comics. At home, Gonzalo has to deal with his weak-willed father and his sister's loutish boyfriend. At the private English-language boys' school Gonzalo attends, the headmaster (Ernesto Malbran), a priest flush with the experimental, egalitarian spirit of the Allende government, has granted scholarships to a few boys from the nearby slums.
One of them, Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna), becomes Gonzalo's friend, and introduces him to another side of life in Santiago. Pedro also introduces Gonzalo to Silvana (Manuela Martelli), a tough, fearless shantytown girl who becomes their frequent companion, and the crux of a sweet romantic triangle that makes parts of "Machuca" resemble a juvenile "Jules and Jim." The three friends help Silvana's father take advantage of the political situation by selling flags at competing demonstrations, and play kissing games on the banks of a muddy creek.
"Machuca," which opens today at Film Forum and which is Chile's submission to this year's Academy Awards, is both sweet and stringent, attuned to the wonders of childhood as well as its cruelty and terror. Mr. Wood allows the story to unfold at a leisurely, almost dawdling pace, which matches the consciousness of his young protagonist. There are moments that feel forced and schematic -- in particular those that insist on revealing Gonzalo's school as a microcosm of a society riven by class and ideology.Continue reading the main story
Steven Gerry Span 484 Essay 1 9/24/15 Andrés Wood's film, Machuca , is set in early 70s Chile during the socialist reign of Salvador Allende. The film is told through the eyes of young Gonzalo Infante, a wealthy upperclass child, who makes friends with a poor student named Pedro Machuca and his cousin Silvana. The film's use of personal testimony during the regime provides a unique look at the socioeconomic problems taking place at the time. The testimonies provide viewers with an emotional view of these problems that would otherwise not be conveyed through literature and media coverage from the time period. The film has two vastly different vantage points on the effects of the communist control. These two contrasting views are the upper class, right-wing, anti-Allende group--composed of people such as the Infante family--and the lower class, government supporters like Pedro's family. The private school, St. Patrick's, which the children attend has introduced a program to bring in the impoverished students like Machuca, thanks to principal Father McEnroe. This creates a lot of tension between the classes, as parents become annoyed with McEnroe's policies and accuse him of communist beliefs. Throughout the duration of the film it is very intruiging to see the roles that these opposing parties play when in eachother's environments--creating a very unique testimonal interpretation from the classes.