At once a reaction to Salvador Allende’s policies of nationalization and a last hurrah against communism during the tail-end of the Vietnam War, Augusto Pinochet’s C.I.A.-backed coup against the Marxist Allende may be one of the United States’s most embarrassing blunders on the world political stage. In supplanting Allende, the United States may have protected its economic interests in Chile but it also helped to usher in one of the darkest periods in Chilean history. Though it skimps on historical details, Andrés Wood’s wonderful Machuca is nonetheless alive with contemporary resonance. The film’s plot more explicitly recalls Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants, but its spiritual kin is Hope and Glory, because Wood, like John Boorman before him, conflates a boy’s coming-of-age with a country’s bourgeoning social and political upheavals. The film’s opening shot represents the calm before the storm: In Santiago de Chile 1973, Gonzalo Infante (Matías Quer) prepares to go to school. It’s just like any other day, except when Gonzalo arrives at his Catholic-run school, he and his classmates learn that the leftist Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran) will be bringing poor children into the classroom. Soon the sheepish Gonzalo befriends Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna) and together they confront their opposing realities, their shared human consciousness symbolized by the young girl who loves them both. Machuca’s poverty speaks for itself (the shit-clogged toilet outside his house; his underwear that poses as swim trunks), and though there’s very little violence in the film, there isn’t a single frame that doesn’t reek of Pinochet’s looming 9/11 coup. In this way, the film is more sobering than something like City of God—its rich tapestry of subtle implications, bitter confrontations, and allegorical signs isn’t eager to please but nonetheless means to appeal to a universal sense of right and wrong. From Gonzalo’s sister’s boyfriend intimidating Machuca with nunchucks to a Marxist slogan finally being erased from a wall repeatedly seen throughout the film, it’s a testament to the film’s power that it can probably be enjoyed and understood with the sound turned off. Next to a shot of Gonzalo riding on his bicycle out of a burning hell (kind of like the poster of the Lone Ranger on his wall), there’s no more powerful shot in the film than the sight of a frazzled McEnroe eating the communion wafers at his church, in essence denying God to a roomful of bourgeois ghouls for denying Machuca’s people their humanity.
Score:Cast: Matías Quer, Ariel Mateluna, Manuela Martelli, Aline Küppenheim, Ernesto Malbran, Tamara Acosta, Francisco Reyes, Alejandro Trejo Director: Andrés Wood Screenwriter: Andrés Wood Distributor: Menemsha Films Running Time: 115 min Rating: NR Year: 2004 Buy: Video