(Andrés Wood, Chile, 2004)


There are thrilling moments when Andrés Wood's Machuca evokes a better version of Bertolucci's The Dreamers (2003) – only with the teenagers a few years younger, and in the midst of social events that are even more cataclysmic.

Two schoolmates, Gonzalo (Matías Quer) and Machuca (Ariel Mateluna), share a sexy game with Silvana (Manuela Martelli), taking turns to kiss her after having taken a swig from a can of condensed milk. However, an evident class difference separates Gonzalo from the others; he comes from an affluent, middle class home where the father travels, the mother cheats and the kids lazily explore the hedonistic pleasures bequeathed by the '60s.

It is 1973 in Santiago, Chile. Gonzalo meets Machuca because of a radical priest, Fr McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran), who has turned the school into a noble experiment in social collectivism. But these are the last weeks of President Allende's rule. Soon, with the coming to power of Pinochet, everything will be brutally broken apart, including the fragile allegiances that have been established across the class barrier.

Films that try to dramatise political subjects through intimate, personal stories often come a cropper – particularly when they try to contrive a neat ending for the narrative or a redemptive epiphany for the characters. Wood confidently steers Machuca towards that bleak moment in Chilean history when oppression lowers its boom on the poor and a chilly pall of "normalisation" freezes daily life for the wealthy. When we reach this moment, the film lets neither the too-passive Gonzalo nor us, the viewers, off the hook.

Machuca is a powerful and lucid movie that deserves a wide audience.

© Adrian Martin September 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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