Dir: Andres Wood.Chile-Spain. 2004. 120mins.

Originally screened inDirectors Fortnight at Cannes this year, Andres Wood's Machuca haspicked up steam throughout the year, is the official Chilean selection for theforeign language Academy Award and was recently picked up for US distributionby Menemsha Films.

It's an unsettling piece seton the eve of the military coup in Chile in 1973, and seen through the eyes ofa privileged rich kid called Gonzalo. And unlike another currentkids-in-tough-situations movie submitted by Mexico - Innocent Voices - itdoesn't fall into easy traps of sentimentalism. It's a small, artfully craftedmovie, and one which will win strong reviews and, should it get a nomination,deserved wider exposure.

It's certainly about time wehad a cinematic reminder of that other ignominious Sept 11, in 1973, whendemocratically elected president Salvador Allende was overthrown - andmurdered - by a US backed military coup in Santiago.

Shot on super 16 with avivid evocation of the period in both design and hue, the film follows thefriendship between Gonzalo (Quer) and a poor boy of tribal descent calledMachuca (Mateluna) who is one of a bunch of poor kids brought into theexpensive private school by the charitable principal Father McEnroe (Malbran).

Machuca shows Gonzalo hishome - a shack in a makeshift shantytown on the city's outskirts - andintroduces him to his neighbour Silvana (Martelli) with whom both boys get intokissing contests.

Gonzalo also gets a taste ofthe growing discontent among the poor masses and joins Machuca and Silvanaselling cigarettes to participants on both right- and left-wing marches andrallies. But he joins in for real with his friends on protests against the veryright-wing values which his own family practices and represents.

His new awareness of thepolitical realities in the city mark an escape from his troubled home life. Hismother (Kuppenheim) is cheating on his father (Kings) with a rich older man(Luppi) and his father doesn't seem to care.

As tensions heat up, withparents' meetings held to protest Father McEnroe's acceptance of poor studentsand clashes between his friends and his family on marches, Gonzalo isincreasingly torn between the two sides.

Then the coup happens andbloody mayhem sweeps through Santiago including the arrival of troops in theschool and the shantytown. Gonzalo's father flees the country, his mother takesup with the older man and he races to the shantytown where a tragedy and atragic betrayal involving Machuca and Silvana await him.

There is no warm and fuzzyending here. Wood portrays the horrors of that period in Chile's history withappropriately frank brutality, and they are all the more affecting for beingreflected through the personal experience of a disaffected rich kid.

The performances from thechildren are all devoid of cute-ness, an unnecessary element in Wood's world ofinnocence already lost. Audiences in the west will respond to his effectiveencapsulation of the two sides of the political spectrum before and during thecrisis. There are, of course, numerous parallels with troubled nations aroundthe world today.

Prod cos: Andres Wood Producciones, Tornasol Films, MamounHassan, Paraiso, Chilefilms
US dist:
Menemsha Films
Int'l sales:
Exec prods:
Nathalie Trafford,Juan Carlos Arriagada, Patricio Pereira
Gerardo Herrero, MamounHassan, Andres Wood
Roberto Brodsky, Hassan,Wood
Miguel Joan Littin
Prod des:
Rodrigo Bazaes
Fernando Pardo
Jose Miguel Miranda, JoseMuguel Tobar
Main cast:
Matias Quer, ArielMateluna, Manuela Martelli, Ernesto Malbran, Aline Kuppenheim, Federico Luppi,Francisco Kings, Luis Dubo, Tamara Acosta