Salvador Allende tried four times to become a Chilean presidential candidate and in 1970 his efforts were rewarded. He won the election and became the first Marxist President of Chile. The economy was in a terrible shape when he came into office. Inflation and unemployment rates were high. Allende’s solution was socialism, much to the displeasure of businesses. He died during a military coup in the fall of 1973. General Augusto Pinochet took charge of presidential duties and inflicted a near twenty year dictatorship on the Chilean people. The story of “Machuca” (Andres Wood) takes place amidst this politically precarious, socio-economically tense environment and examines how this unstable social climate strains the incipient friendship between two boys.
The year is 1973 and Gonzalo Infante’s (Matias Quer) life is about to change. The priests that run St. Patrick’s English School for Boys in Santiago has enacted a new policy that allows lower class Chileans to attend for free. This integration creates an awkward atmosphere in the classroom. Gonzalo does not appear to be affected, though. His mother (Aline Kuppenheim) is exchanging sex for food and household supplies with a wealthy, old man named Roberto (Federico Luppi)—Gonzalo cannot be bothered to care about the presences of his new, poorer classmates. For a brief period of time, Gonzalo keeps to himself and endures being bullied by his so-called friend Gaston (Sebastian Trautmann). When newcomer Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluno) becomes the target of Gaston’s immaturity, Gonzalo puts an unassuming foot down. A friendship begins to brew.
Although it is titled “Machuca,” the film is more about Gonzalo not only because he and his family take up more screen time, but also because he witnesses a broader range of events not only in terms of the overall plot but also with respect to the contrast between his world and that of Machuca. As the story moves along, visual and narrative motifs enhance the ideology. The painted letters on a stone wall go from “no civil war” to “civil war” to nothing. Additionally, Gonzalo’s “The Lone Ranger” book serves as a metaphor of his and Pedro’s friendship. The cowboy meets lifesaving Tonto the Native American. By giving him attention and affection, Pedro figuratively saves Gonzalo’s life. Initiated kindness and tokens of appreciation are exchanged, but not vocally addressed. They spend more and more time together after school, each visiting the other’s homes, until feelings are mutually hurt and their differences ultimately lead to an unforeseeable tragedy.