“Right wing beware, here comes the Rabble.”
The Chilean film Machuca is set in 1973 shortly before the coup that removed Salvador Allende from power and ushered in Pinochet’s dictatorship. The story of the turmoil of these times is told through the eyes of a young boy, Gonzalo Infante (Matias Quer) who comes from a privileged home and attends the private English school, St Patrick’s School for Boys. When the film begins, the Catholic priest in charge of the school, Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran) brings in a large number of children from the local shanty town and tries to integrate them into St Patrick’s. This action reflects the larger social changes afoot in Chile over the past few years–Allende nationalized several industries, intended to expand land redistribution, and create jobs for poor Chileans. Father McEnroe’s decision to integrate the poor boys into an educational system intended to remove the children of wealthy Chileans from the masses, isn’t popular, but it is a sign of the times. Not only are the parents of the boys who pay admission to the elite school outraged, but the poverty and lack of education of the new boys makes them targets for bullying.
Gonzalo, who’s already the recipient of a certain amount of bullying, is placed in an interesting position. He could easily align with members of his own class and ridicule the new students, but circumstances lead him to befriend one of the poor boys, Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna). It’s not a particularly easy friendship, and it’s fraught with many awkward moments. At one point, Gonzalo visits the dilapidated hut that serves as Machuca’s home, and the realities of his friend’s poverty are almost overwhelming.
To Gonzalo, his life, his home, and his material possessions seem quite ordinary–especially when compared to the luxury of a home owned by his mother’s influential lover Roberto Ochagavia (Federico Luppi). There are scenes in which Gonzalo marvels at the luxury of Ochagavia’s home, and parallel scenes in which Machuca marvels at Gonzalo’s life. The boys’ tentative friendship is set against the backdrop of these volatile times, and civil unrest brings food shortages, queues for meager supplies, and demonstrations. The boys participate in the selling of flags for both left and right wing demonstrations, and these experiences provide some ugly scenes of human behaviour while underscoring class and ethnic divisions. As the civil unrest reels out of control, the boys bond in adversity. Gonzalo swears eternal friendship–an oath that is ultimately challenged by class differences. Machuca is an excellent, powerful yet subtle film that deals with its subject matter without sentimentality. Directed by Andres Wood. In Spanish with subtitles.