invasion of the paramount: day six

day six features a pair of excellent south american imports chosen for us by laura vilches, the paramount's booking manager. first up is the chilean political coming of age film, andrés wood's machuca (2004).

it is a sharply observed period piece set in santiago on the cusp of the coup by the brutally oppressive augusto pinochet, as seen through the eyes of a pair of schoolboys from opposite sides of the cultural divide. gonzalo is a fair-haired, freckle faced kid, a little soft around the edges with a good heart and with little clear idea of exactly how privileged he is. he meets pedro when the latter is integrated into his private school as part of a progressive program to offer education to poorer students. gonzalo refuses to go along with a group of bullies determined to teach pedro ugly lessons about their perceptions of class, coming to his defense instead, and a bond between the two is formed. they navigate the minefields of adolescence against a backdrop of civil unrest that is so intense it turns everything into a political action. simple pleasures and childhood rites of passage are magnified so that everything from buying someone candy to accepting a ride home from school equates to choosing sides in the fierce battle that is looming. things grow progressively more violent and inflamed until finally pinochet ousts sitting president salvador allende and his military forces harshly clamp down on the entire city, including the boys' school. the priests that previously administrated the school, attempting to teach the children dignity and fair play, are replaced by jackbooted thugs and administrators willing to follow the party line. when pedro is the only person, child or adult, with the wherewithal to acknowledge his departing mentor, he is removed from the school and a distraught gonzalo hurries to the slums where pedro lives to find out what has become of his friend. what he finds is a horrifying and frightening scene, with soldiers brutally corralling men, women and children, forcing people out of their homes and burning their belongings. he stands by helpless as pedro and his family are rounded up and their friend silvana takes on the soldiers beating her father. she grows more fierce and things spiral further and further out of control until she is murdered by a soldier right before their very eyes. still in shock from what he has just seen, gonzalo is accosted by a soldier and plays the the class card as his only means of escaping arrest, exhorting the soldier to look at him, as he obviously doesn't belong there with his light complexion and nice clothes. the soldier lets him go and he runs back to safety on his side of the tracks, presumably to never see pedro again. growing up is tough enough as it is. growing up in the middle of violent revolution certainly raises the stakes. it is hard to fault someone for doing what he thinks it will take to not be killed. it is impossible to fault a rightly terrified eleven year-old boy. none of that makes what gonzalo will have to live with any easier, though, as he goes back to a life of relative ease. this was just a great film. it was beautifully shot, exemplifying that style of filmmaking that follows john ford's example of finding the best place to put the camera and not burdening the story with excessive artifice. the kids put in uniformly excellent performances, with an especially wonderful moment revolving around the amorous possibilities that lie within a can of condensed milk. the politics are overt, so if that's not your idea of a good time this might not do it for you, but when simple human dignity is a matter of life and death and carefree childhood innocence is a luxury no one can afford, we should pay attention to what filmmakers like wood are trying to tell us.

for our second feature we go from chile to brazil and from cognitive dissidence to mythic revelry with marcel camus' black orpheus (1959).

i just did this one in last month's queue, so you can read those impressions of it here. i decided to go ahead and keep it in this queue in the spirit of seeing what a new pairing would bring out of it. aside from the things i mentioned last month, machuca highlighted one particular idea for me this time around. in the wake of our first film, i found myself focused a lot more on the unspoken circumstances of the poor and how anything can be a tool for revolution. when you are part of a disenfranchised and marginalized underclass you use what is at your disposal. music is a way to push back, dancing is a way to push back. if you live in a slum, no matter how colorful, and you face peril and poverty on a daily basis, you savor small victories in ways the privileged can never hope to understand and to mount a celebration is to engage in an epic and joyous battle. people on the outside of that can try to exploit it all they want but it is still your triumph. today, black orpheus reminds me to value those things easily taken for granted.

thanks, laura, for an excellent trip to the other side of the equator!

tomorrow finds us in a land where the revolution is long since over.

don't forget to bring a canteen.

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