Synopsis & Film Details
Santiago, Chile, 1973: Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna) is a poor boy of tribal descent, brought into an upper-class private school during Chile’s brief socialist era. Gonzalo (Matias Quer), the well-to-do boy seated a row ahead, befriends Pedro against the bullying will of his classmates. In so doing, he discovers a raw, thrilling but wildly complicated world outside his own previously sheltered home life. Pedro’s fierce, attractive young neighbor Silvana (Manuella Martelli) by turns mocks Gonzalo’s pampered background, only to fondly lead both boys in a number of kissing games. All around them, Chile drifts toward civil war. Protest marches fill the Santiago streets with zealots of the right and left. At school, their humane headmaster Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran) comes under a hysteria-driven attack by parents for his charity toward poor students.
Amid so much public turmoil, little Gonzalo must also contend with more intimate kinds of upheaval. His sexy, melancholy mother (Aline Kuppenheim) is having a love affair with a wealthy older man (Federico Luppi). His father (Francisco Kings) is sweet but ineffectual and lacks the fire to fight for his marriage. Thus Gonzalo’s household seems headed for a regime change as unwelcome as the one brewing in the streets.
He, therefore, escapes into his friendship with Pedro, and for a time the two boys become witnesses to each other’s lives. Pedro gets a look at the intense dysfunctions in Gonzalo’s life, and Gonzalo in turn is immersed in Pedro’s world of extreme poverty. The two boys share a love of comic books devoted to the Lone Ranger. With Sylvana’s encouragement, they also take part in protest marches — selling cigarettes and flags to demonstrators on the right as well as the left, but chanting with committed vigor when marching with the left.
The already enormous rift between Gonzalo’s comfortable household and Pedro’s hard-scrabble life a few miles away in an illegal shantytown ultimately becomes impossible to bridge, once the bloody military coup of September 11, 1973, erupts and capsizes the nation. All three children suddenly face moral tests far beyond their young capacities. As they do, Machuca inevitably surges to a heartbreaking, insightful finale.
An international co-production directed by Andrés Wood.
“It seemed to me that to make this film was absolutely necessary. Nobody has ever touched the loss of democracy in Chile from this innocent perspective. Children experience events, but they do not judge. They simply live and bear witness. Such a stance gives a great deal of freedom and truth to the story — a perspective that is neither ‘political’ or ‘social’ but true to human life in all its greatness and misery.”
– Andres Wood
(Chile, 2004; 120 min., in Spanish with English subtitles, not rated)