A review of “Machuca” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: Not rated but could be PG-13 for violence and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles

 

 

Social ostracism is the tie that binds in this politically charged drama from Chile that speaks to coming-of-age as much as it does its politics circa 1973.

Eleven-year old Gonzalo Infante (Matias Quer) is a poor little rich boy from Santiago, the only son of a philandering mom who is enrolled in an experimental day school for the wealthy.

  The posh St. Patrick’s works both sides of the fence, tutoring the children of the upper crust and providing a democratic atmosphere free from class distinction by offering free education to the local poor boys, ostensibly offering them a brighter future.

Gonzalo and newcomer Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mataluna) are a close fit from the start, bonded by insecurities and indignities suffered at the hands of the school bullies.  When Gonzalo gets a peek at Pedro’s low-life existence he is energized and intrigued, rebelling against his comfortable roots and parents who aren’t paying enough attention.

Machuca crams a lot of narrative – perhaps too much -- into its two-hour running time, never straying from the youngsters’ point-of-view but hinting at the ripe mysteries – socialism, class wars, adultery, sexuality – that will intimately mark these young men for life.

Director Andres Wood takes a political hard-line in spite of the emotional overflow, focusing on the doomed nature of Chile’s brief Socialist era and the failed experiment of a left-leaning headmaster with dreams of democratic glory.  Dense and well-crafted.