Tuesday, October 16, 2012

72. Machuca (2004)

Life before Pinochet

During my internship at the ICC, I met a fellow human rights lawyer from Chile.   She noted that I had not reviewed any movies about the military dictatorship under Pinochet.  Today's review aims to rectify that, to some extent, by featuring the first (but not last) Chilean film - Machuca

Set in Santiago, Chile, during the presidency of Salvador Allende, the film is a coming of age story of two boys in the run up to the military coup d'etat.  The film directed by Andres Wood is semi-autobiographical and tells the story of a prestigious private school run by a priest, Father McEnroe (based on Father Gerard Whelan).  Father McEnroe carries out a social experiment, inviting boys who live in local, poverty stricken areas to attend the elite, private school.  

Gonzalo Infante, a white, middle class child, bullied by his classmates, befriends one of the new boys, Pedro Machuca.  Through his friendship with Pedro, Gonzalo attends the different demonstrations taking place throughout the city to sell flags.  At these marches, he is made aware for the first time of his privileged position: he witnesses his mother yell abuse at his new friends and the actions of his sister's boyfriend.  

The movie, as one might imagine, has no happy ending.  The military coup results in the repression of el pueblo, directly affecting Pedro's family.  Gonzalo, however, can carry on with his life at the private school, saved by the colour of his skin and his Adidas trainers bought in Buenos Aires. Pedro has no such luck with the army under orders to root out communists and with absolute impunity to act with violence, the beginning of Pinochet's dictatorship begin to unfold.  A dictatorship which resulted in torture as indicted by Garzon and confirmed by the House of Lords in London.  

According to the director, in an interview with Close Up film magazine: 
" We wanted to recreate our own past, you know? We didn't want to tell the official story of Chile . The film is very much a partial vision. So we wanted to recreate our own past. My own past was a mixture of things, you know? So in the movie you have the background of different people, different styles. Pop, hippy, Andean, poor, rich. You hear music from the right and from the left, because in Chile in those days it was very different to be a musician from the right to be a musician from the left. And we mixed everything you know, so that nothing was so clear. I think that gives the movie a sense of reality, more so than to take care of every little detail - which of course we did also!"

During the film, which is excellent and definitely worth watching, I couldn't help thinking how much my experience of the film must differ from those who have a close personal connection to Chile.  As the director states above, the film is very detailed, with great attention paid to the clothes and setting of the movies to re-create the past (for example, the posters of Victor Jarra on the walls of Machuca's house). 

I wanted to ask my friend why she had recommended this movie in particular?  Does it best represent the years leading up to Pinochet's coup?  How does the director's partial vision of history fit in with her own?  Did she recommend the film because cinematically it is good or due to its popularity?  
It is a strength of the film, that it leaves us asking questions about Chile's history, the role of society in Pinochet's dictatorship and its future.  As one mother asks at a parent-teacher meeting:  when are things going to be done differently?

A mixture of the profound with moments of touching comedy, I endorse the recommendation. 


  1. Dear Keina, thanks for posting this, and for watching the movie. Just to answer your questions: I recommended it to you because, of course I really like the movie, I watched it the first time with tears in my eyes, and the bitter feeling of the ending of the movie remained for some time. So I should maybe say why it is that I like it, and I can´t really say... I like it although it is hurtful to watch, there are a number of things I can relate to in the film, from music, vocabulary, to drinking condemnse milk from the can. It also shows very accurately how divided was the society at that time, and still when you talk about the subject, you can see how people are still divided: there are people who do in fact, justify the coup. And I do remember people saying some years ago, that the whole violation of human rights wasn´t really true... others, like me, were qualified by classmates in school of being communist because I would say that I didn´t agree with the coup.

    Anyway, I feel very touched by your insightful comments on the movie, and glad you enjoyed it, hope a lot of people watch it.


  2. Keina, I love your blog! I've given you a little promotion on my blog, Rights Readers: http://rightsreaders.blogspot.com

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  3. Thanks Martha!

    Look forward to checking out your blog.

    Best, K.