- Machuca (2004) movie review: Set in 1973 Santiago, Andrés Wood’s mix of coming-of-age drama and sociopolitical commentary is a generally engrossing effort anchored on first-rate performances by a trio of young actors – Matías Quer, Manuela Martelli, and Ariel Mateluna – playing characters from different ranks of Chile’s stratified society.
Machuca movie review: Coming-of-age drama interweaves Chilean family life with country’s turbulent political realm
Set in Santiago around the time of the U.S.-backed military coup that deposed Chile’s popularly elected democratic socialist president Salvador Allende and imposed Augusto Pinochet’s long-lasting, far-right dictatorship, director and co-screenwriter Andrés Wood’s Machuca is a generally well-made and at times moving depiction of a difficult historical period as seen through the eyes of three pre-adolescents from different social classes.
Despite an excessive use of hip sounds from the early 1970s that tend to be more distracting than mood-enhancing, Wood does manage to capture the feel of Allende’s Chile, especially in the street scenes. Besides, he and fellow screenwriters Roberto Brodsky and Mamoun Hassan expertly convey the intricate but inexorable links connecting their fictional characters’ – and by extension, each living individual’s – personal and sociopolitical realms.
As a plus, Andrés Wood has a solid grip on his capable cast, eliciting several outstanding performances, particularly from the film’s three young leads: Freckle-faced, well-to-do white boy Matías Quer, whose life is dramatically changed after he discovers Chile’s “other side of the tracks”; his friend and romantic interest Manuela Martelli; and, in the title role as the school’s lower-class, ethnically mixed odd boy out, Ariel Mateluna.
Equally flawless is Aline Küppenheim as Quer’s youthful (and adulterous) mother.
Chile’s pro-military censorship
A noteworthy Machuca aside: At the 2004 edition of Los Angeles’ AFI FEST, Andrés Wood stated that Chilean law prohibited the negative portrayal of that country’s military on screen.
Even so, Wood added that no one had come after him because of Machuca, which presents the Chilean armed forces in an unflattering light.
As to be expected, some Chilean right-wingers have accused the filmmaker and his film of distorting history.
It should be noted that similar accusations were hurled against Costa-Gavras’ real-life-based, Oscar-nominated 1982 political thriller Missing, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek as two Americans looking for their missing son/husband (John Shea) in the aftermath of the coup.
An estimated 4,000 people were murdered and 40,000 tortured during Pinochet’s bloodthirsty dictatorship, which finally came to an end in 1990.
Director: Andrés Wood.
Screenplay: Andrés Wood, Roberto Brodsky, and Mamoun Hassan.
Consultant: Eliseo Altunaga.
Cast: Matías Quer. Ariel Mateluna. Manuela Martelli. Aline Küppenheim. Ernesto Malbran. Tamara Acosta. Francisco Reyes. Alejandro Trejo. Federico Luppi.
“Machuca Movie (2004)” endnotes
Machuca was Chile’s submission for the 2005 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, but in spite of revolving around a young boy and his problems (see Children of Heaven, Kolya, The Thief, Life Is Beautiful, Central Station, etc.), it failed to land a nomination. The coming-of-age drama did, however, get shortlisted at the Spanish Academy’s Goya Awards and the Mexican Academy’s Ariel Awards in the Best Spanish-Language Foreign Film and Best Ibero-American Film categories, respectively.
Matías Quer Machuca movie image: Menemsha Entertainment.
“Machuca Movie (2004): Personal + Political Realms Clash in Chilean Drama” last updated in September 2021.