“What’s this? War or a boy scout camp?”
Set during the 70s during border tensions between Chile and Argentina, Sgt Ferrer (Erto Panjojo) takes five conscripts out on patrol near the border. Ferrer is ordered to discover the barb wire boundary from the 1904 borders and then ‘defend the islands.’ The men are each given twenty bullets and told to kill 5 Argentineans. Since this is hardly a well-funded project, they have one compass to guide the way.
Given the set-up, the absurdities come fast and furious–with the underlying message that the men are entirely expendable in this insane mission. One of the conscripts, the plump, sweet but clueless Almonacid (Andres Olea) has the job of picking up a pebble every 1000 steps to mark their progress and approximate distance. As the terrain changes, the Chileans found themselves on the flat pampas covered plains with nowhere to hide, and they can’t tell where Chile ends and Argentina begins. It doesn’t take long before disaster strikes and the men find themselves locked into a version of trench warfare with their enemies –The Argentineans .
Mi Mejor Enimigo from director Alex Bowen, starts off very strongly before sliding into a few predictable cliches. Some of the characters are well developed while others are virtually ignored. But in spite of these faults, the film manages to redeem itself with its clear, subtle final scenes that underscore the idea that war is a pointless exercise in stupidity. Are the Chileans at the mercy of the Argentineans or their own officers? There’s one scene with the Chilean soldiers chatting when it suddenly occurs to them that they are all from Northern Chile. One of the men realizes that their origins dictate their assignment as it’s a well-known fact that many southern Chiles don’t see Argentina as a blood enemy. There’s an uncomfortable moment of silence and then the conversation moves on. The film’s gorgeous cinematography and stunning use of wide open skies, spectacular sunsets and vast open plains helps the sometimes weak plot in the message that borders are hard to clarify and sometimes impossible to maintain….
A great deal of the story focuses on private Rodrigo Rojas (Nicolas Saavedra) a young man who carries a photo of a waitress (Fernanda Urrejola) inside his helmet. He swears that if he survives this girl will be his, and this statement parallels the idea that some men get medals and some men don’t.
“It will do you good to spend some time in prison.”
Johnny 100 Pesos is a very dark, strange Chilean crime film. When I say the film is ‘strange’ I should add that there are moments of humor juxtaposed with moments of dark reality. And I’m not that sure we’re really meant to laugh at some of the funny moments at all. Perhaps they are just placed within the film to accentuate the horror that awaits some of these characters.
The film is set in Chile. The days of the military junta are over, but life is still tough for a great many Chileans. When the film begins, a 17-year-old student named Johnny (Armando Araiza), dressed in his school uniform, sits on the bus. He’s obviously nervous, and events indicate he’s an inept criminal. He enters a high-rise building and goes into an apartment that’s converted into a tiny video rental shop. There are just a few choices here, and the walls are covered with posters of various recognizable films–including Last Tango in Paris. But Johnny isn’t there to rent a videotape. He’s there, along with accomplices, to rob the shop which is a front for a money laundering business. The crime goes wrong, and the crooks and their hostages find themselves in a siege situation with Chilean police.
What ensues is a comedy/tragedy of errors. Holed up in the video shop, the criminals along with their various hostages are trapped. As the hapless thieves try to negotiate their way out, we get flashes of life in Chile. Blood-sucking paparazzi mercilessly hound Johnny’s mother for a hint of where he went ‘wrong’ in childhood, and government officials juggle the potentially disastrous situation with concerns that it won’t look ‘good’ for them if hostages are killed. Meanwhile post-Pinochet government officials who are ‘sensitive’ to public opinion and public pressure must deal with others whose belief systems are locked in the ‘good old’ days–the hanging judge, a dinosaur from the Pinochet era, who couldn’t care less what happens to the hostages.
While the thieves are hardened criminals, Johnny is not. He’s never been to jail, and he has no idea of what awaits him. Some of the most powerful scenes in the film occur when the other gang members fill Johnny in with the details of what to expect in prison. One of the hostages is a beautiful ex-prostitute who’s married to the owner of the shop. She relates to Johnny and the poverty that drives him to crime. This is a very dark crime film, and although I expected it to be fairly mediocre, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. In Spanish with subtitles, Johnny 100 Pesos is directed by Gustavo Graef-Marino.
Filed under Chilean, Crime
“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.