Like the adolescent protagonists of Louis Malle's LACOMBE, LUCIEN (1974) and AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1987), the young hero of Chilean director Andres Wood's powerful drama comes of age quickly during a time of traumatic upheaval. The rude awakening of 11-year-old Gonzalo Infante (Matias Quer), however, occurs not in Nazi-occupied France but Santiago, Chile, on the eve of the violent 1973 coup that would leave the democratically elected president Salvadore Allende dead and a military junta, headed by General Augusto Pinochet, leading a reign of terror that would last well into the next decade. Santiago, Chile, 1973. Allende, an ardent socialist, has been in office three years and depending on which side of deeply divisive poverty line one happens to be living, things are either getting better or disastrously worse. Inflation is out of control; food, gas and cigarettes are now strictly rationed; the streets are filled with protest marches both for and against Allende, and graffiti warns of a coming civil war. But for pampered Gonzalo, whose beautiful, adulterous mother (Aline Kuppenheim) is able to procure most luxuries from either the black market or her powerful lover (Federico Luppi), the biggest change comes when a group of poor boys are admitted into his tony, English-language private school, thanks in large part to the efforts of the school's progressive headmaster, Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran). The new kids don't live very far from St. Patrick's, but they may as well be living in another country: Instead of returning home each afternoon to the leafy neighborhoods where Gonzalo and his schoolmates live with their rich families, boys like 11-year-old Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna) head back to the impoverished, corrugated tin shantytowns of Santiago's slums. In spite of their vast differences or perhaps because of them Gonzalo and Pedro become fast friends and even share a girlfriend of sorts in Pedro's neighbor, Silvana (Manuela Martelli), a feisty, precocious kid who looks down on Gonzalo for being a rich snob. Gonzalo's father (Francisco Kings) and mother, meanwhile, do nothing to discourage the friendship, but the same forces that are about to tear Chile apart soon prove to powerful for even the strong bonds of two best friends to withstand. Like both of Malle's films, Wood's drama packs an emotional gut-punch that's all the more devastating for its being rooted in a dreadful historical reality. It's difficult to imagine living in a country in which a democratically elected president is overthrown some say murdered by the military, but that's exactly what Wood experienced as a child in Santiago, and his powerful film bears the memory like a bruise.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: Like the adolescent protagonists of Louis Malle's LACOMBE, LUCIEN (1974) and AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1987), the young hero of Chilean director Andres Wood's powerful drama comes of age quickly during a time of traumatic upheaval. The rude awa… (more)