Thursday, October 29, 2009

Machuca (movie review)

This could be viewed as a double feature with Motorcycle Diaries in that it focuses on many of the same themes, namely the rise of political movements around a consciousness of class, if not also race. Or watch it with Favela Rising, about a documentary set in Sao Paolo, or with The Lost City, about Castro's Cuba.

The core setting is a boy's school, St. Patrick's in Santiago, Chile in the late 1960s, and the respective home lives of two boys, one from the privileged elite, the other from a shantytown.

Thanks to the ascendancy of the Allende regime and a supportive Catholic priest headmaster, St. Patrick's is integrating, providing some scholarships to boys from the shantytowns.

In looking through the lens of young male (a slightly younger contemporary -- I was in Junior English School in Rome about that same time), the political drama becomes a background of sound bites, with adults parading in the streets in large numbers to demonstrate their various political positions. They jump up and down and bang on pots and pans, playing commies versus snobs.

Strife flares in a parent meeting at the school, where many of the moneyed blame the introduction of the economically disadvantaged for a rise in school violence and turn on the English-speaking priest. Other privileged parents are more liberal, though are not outright Marxists.

When the tide turns against Allende and the military seizes power on 9-11, 1973 (a coup), the disadvantaged are vengefully attacked, their ideology driven underground, and the Marxist sympathizing priests are muscled aside by the ruling Pinochet junta.

The little window we get into the St. Patrick's curriculum shows that frank discussion of events of the day and their historical context is not really what's up. Civics, debating skills... not a part of this picture. The real world of social interaction and starkly contrasting lifestyles is more what kids learn about after school and during recess.

The film is well acted by all concerned and provides a better doorway to history than dry texts alone. I might assign readings along the lines of Bucky Fuller's No Race, No Class to go with it, plus I'd encourage critical questioning regarding the efficacy of politico-military solutions.

One Laptop Per Child might be more of a step in the right direction, along with enlightened urban planning ala Mayor Jaime Lerner of Curtiba, Brazil. Engineering projects and the distribution of strategic artifacts (e.g. soap, shoes... eyeglasses), and better access to global data, are more the core focus in world game playing.