Political Film Society - Newsletter #225 - May 1, 20055

May 1, 2005


In 1973, after the reelection of Richard Nixon, the government of democratically elected Salvador Allende was replaced by a military coup led by General Agusto Pinochet. Machuca, directed by Andrés Wood, attempts to recreate events before, during, and after the coup from the eyes of two eleven-year-old schoolboys, Gonzalo Infante (played by Matías Quer) and Pedro Machuca (played by Ariel Mateluna). However, Gonzalo's eyes are the ones that are really opened during the movie. When the film begins, Father McEnroe (played by Ernesto Malbrán) introduces five new students, obviously poor, to a classroom of students from affluent backgrounds at Saint Patrick English School. Although he says that the new students live nearby, in fact they are from shantytowns along the river at the end of the city of Santiago. Father McEnroe asks five of the rich boys to move so that he can integrate the poor boys into the classroom; as a result, the classroom bully must give up his seat, and Pedro sits behind Gonzalo. The bully provokes a fight with Pedro one day, then has four boys hold Pedro in a spreadeagle standing position, and dares Gonzalo to slug him. When Gonzalo demurs, the four boys run off, throw a rock that injures Gonzalo on the left temple, and Pedro comes to his aid. Now the two boys are best friends. After Pedro learns how the rich live by visiting Gonzalo's home, the latter bicycles to the shantytown to see the wretched living conditions of the people who traveled from the country to the city for economic survival. Meanwhile, the film attempts to reproduce the ongoing political upheaval. Merchants are rationing food, demonstrators are protesting for and against the Allende government, parents of the children bitterly argue about the new level of school violence in a meeting at the school, Allende's imprudent trip to Moscow appears on television, and ultimately the police take control of the country. Gonzalo attends both types of rallies as well as the altercation at school, learning that the rich are engaging in class warfare, even cheating the poor right in front of him. He also observes as Father McEnroe is arrested, inhabitants of the shantytown are rounded up and even shot to death, and a television set announces that everything is back to "normal." Seldom have such unpleasant details about a military coup appeared on the screen so graphically. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Machuca for three awards--best film exposé, best film relating to human rights, and best film on the virtues of democracy. A title at the end notes that Machuca is dedicated to Father Gerardo Whelan, who was the principal of such a school from 1969-1973.  MH


Assisted Living"Old people's homes," now euphemistically called "assisted living facilities," are nursing homes where the elderly are parked in the United States because dysfunctional families do not take care of them. Assisted Living, directed by Elliot Greenebaum, is a semifictional exposé of Masonic Home, an actual facility at Louisville, Kentucky. The camera records interviews with the staff and some of the residents and, as well, takes filmviewers on a tour of a campus, which consists of clean dormitory-type rooms, a well-organized dining room, an activity room, and attractive landscaping. Clearly, those in charge try to do their jobs professionally, but drinking and potsmoking by the staff is a measure of the frustration over the zoo that they run. Most of the time the elderly residents eat, sleep, and sit in wheelchairs aimlessly, detached from the world outside. Assisted Living, however, changes from boring documentary to exciting drama when twenty-seven-year-old Todd (played by Michael Bonsignore), an orderly at the facility, decides to amuse some of the inmates--and himself. For example, when octogenarian Mrs. Pearlman (played by Maggie Riley) tries to make a telephone call to her son in Australia from a nurse's station, Todd picks up a telephone extension, pretends to be her son, and has a conversation. Mrs. Pearlman wants her son to visit her and to take her home, and Todd obliges by promising to do so, but she is in tears when the conversation ends. Later, he scoops her up from her bed, takes her out to the grassy area, convinces her that they are in Australia, and enjoys watching her brighten up, even though nursing personnel inevitably will return her to her room. Mrs. Pearlman, in short, is a paradigm case for the lonely elderly who barely cling to life yet are left to die in facilities that are managed by well-intentioned people. Assisted Living, in short, asks why Americans allow the elderly to be treated so expendably. What the film does not mention is that the cost of importing nurses into a family's residence for twenty-four-hour care is much less than Mrs. Pearlman's bill at a privately funded facility, whereas the quality of nursing homes supported fully by taxpayers is dreadfully inferior to both options. Nevertheless, as a portrayal of the secret of how the elderly are abandoned to a meaningless existence, the Political Film Society has nominated Assisted Living for an award as best film exposé of 2005. MH