Film Review: 'Machuca'

Unlike much of Chilean cinema over the past two decades, Machuca is more than a political account of the historical events leading up to the military coup in Chile. It's more than a story of class division. It's the story of a transcendent friendship that inspires the mind and touches the heart.

Santiago Chile Machuca
Photo courtesy Wood Productions

The story unfolds over the months leading up to General Pinochet’s military coup of 1973. Vitacura’s exclusive Saint Patrick School for boys has opened up its doors to poorer children from the slum-like outskirts of Santiago in an idealistic effort to reduce class inequality.

The inevitable bullying and resulting upheaval within the school throws together Machuca's two protagonists: Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna), one of the new boys, who is uptight yet affectionate, and affluent Gonzalo Infante (Matías Quer), an awkward academic with a conflicted heart of gold.

Santiago Chile Machuca
Photo courtesy Wood Productions

In a relationship grounded in mutual respect, the two boys grow close as they experience their first enjoyable adolescent moments together, from their first time drinking to sharing their first kisses with the same girl.

Meanwhile, the audience becomes aware of the upcoming destruction foreshadowed by the street scenes, which portray rallies and marches in both protest of and counter-protest for President Allende’s government.

While Infante sees these demonstrations as a new, fun adventure, the audience shares Machuca’s awareness of the danger and despair that lie ahead.

No amount of expensive education can compensate for Infante’s lack of understanding, which is evident to everyone else including Machuca. It is only the devastating climax that reveals how far apart the worlds of Machuca and Infante truly are.

Santiago Chile Machuca
Photo courtesy Wood Productions

A very poignant character is headmaster Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran), gentle, wise and symbolic of the hope for and aspiration towards a fairer society. His brusque Scottish demeanor masks a compassionate soul that seeks to make the best of his students, as both pupils and young men. Nevertheless, along with all good things in the film, he is ultimately destroyed.

The accuracy of the mise en scène coupled with the gritty, gray cinematography reflects the dreary, repressed lifestyle of 1970s Santiago. Director Andrés Wood maintains the natural colors so the audience can focus on the authentic story, based on the period of Wood's own childhood.

Chileans and critics alike recognize the film's honesty, which accurately depicts the era. The two young leads execute flawless performances while Malbran as Father McEnroe delivers a strong yet heartbreaking character as the doomed headmaster.

Despite the clear political references, Machuca's greatest strength is its heart that provides humanity to an emotionally intelligent story.

Machuca, 2004

Directed by Andrés Wood

With Ariel Mateluna, Matías Quer, Ernesto Malbran and Manuela Martelli

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