Sunday, December 11, 2005

Machuca: A New Film from Chile

I haven't seen many films from Latin America. Perhaps City of God (from Brazil) and Amores Perros (from Mexico) are the only two films that I have seen. And yes, I saw Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados last week but more on that later. There was this film called The Holy Girl from Argentina which created lots of waves early this year (which I missed) and I am on a look out for the films by Carlos Reygadas, none of whose films I have seen yet. I also missed on The Motorcycle Diaries, but hopefully I will get my hands on the DVD very soon. Anyway, this evening I caught up with a new film from Chile called Machuca, which is Chile's official submission to this year's oscars and apparently was the highest grossing film of this year there.

The film tells a very moving story of two young boys Gonzalo and Pedro (the Machuca of the title) in the backdrop of the one of the most tragic events in Chile's modern history, when the democratically elected left wing government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup d'etat by the right wing military dictator Pinochet. Allende was later murdered. In the civil war that followed, thousands of political dissidents were killed and thousands more "disappeared". The film uses the historical events just as a backdrop to tell the story of the friendships that the kids forge despite their class barriers (one of them is rich and the other poor). The film also tries to portray the social realities in Chile prior to the civil war and succeeds admirably in doing that.

There are a few subplots which work very well and are finely woven into the main narrative. Specially the character of the idealistic principal-priest of the Gonzalo's school who wants to give the poor children living in shanty towns equal opportunities by extending scholarships to them (that's how Pedro and Gonzalo come together). In fact the film is dedicated to a real-life figure on which the director modeled that character. There is a very effective scene towards the end of the film when the priest is humiliated by the military generals and shown the door. The other subplot involves the teen girl who lives in the neighbourhood of Pedro and earns her living selling flags in the street demonstrations. She is fiery, angry and very political. She hates rich "snobs", but one of them, Gonzalo gets romantically involved with her which pays tragic dividends towards the end of the film in the tragic denouement when the military takes over everything. There is also a very touching, "kissing" scene with the two boys and the girl.

What I liked best about the film was that even though it was using a child's point of view to show the political horrors, it never romanticised the idea of childhood innocence and thus avoided those easy cliches about idyllic and innocent childhood and horrors of adult world. In fact as this review in The New York Times very rightly notes:

Its point is not to settle scores or reopen old wounds, but rather to explore, after a long period of repression, the possibility of grief. The youthful condition it evokes most strongly is not innocence but impotence - the discovery that you are powerless to protect the people you care about from harm, and also powerless to protect yourself against the shame of your own failure.
It sums up the film very well. Overall an evening very well spent. It left me feeling very sad and hopeless but then, I can exchange any number of stupid and senseless pleasures for this kind of sadness! It's pity that films like these, which educate us, enlighten us and move us, don't get much media coverage in news papers which are more obsessed with movies about comic books and giant apes!


Anonymous said...

Seems like a really good film.
I think you have seen one more latin american film, 'Y Tu Mama Tambien'.

I have seen half of 'Motorcycle Diaries', need to complete it soon.

I saw Rear Window recently, really liked it, infact better than Vertigo. The first half is just great. This completes three great voyeuristic movies, others being by Kiewslowski. Are there any other good peeping-tom-cinema, I sort of like this genre :)


nomadic_waves said...

Whoa...nice informative blog i managed to stumble upon....

Alok said...

thanks Nomadi Waves!

Anurag:the film wasn't a masterpiece but I like these kind if films -- humanistic but not sentimental and rooted in historical reality.

Rear Windos is good although I like Vertigo more. Haan, Kim Novak is nothin as compared to Grace Kelly, that much I can agree :)

You are right about Mama Tambien. I forgot about that. But then I thought that was one forgettable film anyway!