Set in Santiago in 1973, during Salvador Allende’s socialist government and shortly before the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, the astonishingly intimate Chilean film ‘Machuca’ boasts outstanding accuracy in its production, from the costume design, graffittis and the product brands to the violence, killings and the social polarization. But also the honesty of Andres Wood, the director, keeps the film particularly precise cleansing it from political propaganda – a rarity in Chilean cinema.
‘Machuca’ tells the painful story of two school friends from completely different backgrounds: Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna), intense yet warm, is very poor and lives in a slum, and Gonzalo Infante (Matías Quer), awkward and wise beyond his years, is a bourgeois boy who is highly priviledged in comparison. They both attend Santiago’s elite Saint Patrick School. They met there as part of the humble principle’s, Father McEnroe’s (Ernesto Malbran), new trial of integration between students of the upper and lower classes. We see their unlikely friendship grow strong as they both come of age, despite the class tensions of the time, until the street conflicts lead Chile to the bloody and repressive coup, changing their lives, their relationship and their country. This story, I believe, acts as a metaphor for the innocence of the people in that time, which was lost over and over again.
Even though the film focuses on the blossoming friendship of Machuca and Infante, the audience still gains a great sense of the devastating feeling of the entirety of Chile during this time. In my opinion this is the ingenious essence of the film. Wood subtly achieves this by a combination of cinematic elements that increasingly build tension to an overwhelming climax. The gritty, grey cinematography realistically reflects the dreary and repressed lifestyle. The camera continuously hovers, again emphasising the sense of realism in the movie. Constant hints of the political turmoil and class polarization that are disrupting the boys’ country are ever present not only in the manic street protest scenes but in every character – they all seem to have conflicting ideas for Chile’s well-being.
Bold, staggering performances from all the actors as well as Wood’s direction have made a richly written and heart-wrenching film, which exposes a time in Chile when class differences were both overlooked and asserted, depending on your view.
WARNING: You will laugh, you will cry and your heart will race like never before…
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.
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.
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.
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.