The Student (El Estudiante): Film Review

  Smart political drama from Argentina introduces a gifted actor and director

Although probably too steeped in Argentinean politics to translate easily to American audiences, this is a dynamic piece of filmmaking that promises a bright future for Santiago Mitre.


One of the best Argentinean films to have its world premiere at this year's Buenos Aires International Film Festival is El Estudiante (The Student), the first feature directed by Santiago Mitre. Although the movie is probably too steeped in Argentinean politics to translate easily to American audiences, it's a dynamic piece of filmmaking that promises a bright future for Mitre.

The film follows the adventures of Roque (Estaban Lamothe), who arrives in Buenos Aires from the provinces to study at the university. But his classes bore him. He's more interested in piling up a series of sexual conquests and in entering the fraught world of university politics. Roque is a man in a hurry, and he quickly ingratiates himself with some of the political leaders on campus, both students and professors, and gets involved in a campaign to bring reforms to a desiccated academic system.

It quickly becomes clear that the director is using the conflicts of a campus election to create a metaphor for political manipulations in the larger society, much as Alexander Payne in Election made acerbic comments on American mores by focusing on the intrigue of a high school election. And we see that Roque, a cocky, charismatic opportunist, is likely to travel far beyond the classrooms of this hothouse university setting. He's almost a Kennedy-in-the-making, a handsome and brainy charmer with outsized sexual appetites and a lust for the limelight.

The film has little interest in probing Roque's psychological background, though one telling scene with his father gives us an idea of where he got some of his sexual swagger. Instead the movie is a day-by-day chronicle of what makes this South American Sammy run.

Mitre provides some narration, in the style of early Godardand Truffaut movies, to explain some of the time jumps and also fill in the political affiliations of the characters. The movie is full of talk, and yet it never seems static. The editing is adroit, and even though we may not understand all of the political references, Mitre's style is so energetic that the film always has a rushing forward momentum. It also provides a fascinating glimpse into the passionate atmosphere at so many Latin American universities, reminiscent of American colleges in the 60s but very unlike American campus life today. Students argue with their professors in an openly belligerent manner, and they're also likely to hop into bed with their profs, since that American taboo doesn't seem to operate in Buenos Aires.

All of the performances are compelling, and Lamothe's skillful star turn holds the movie together. Roque learns some hard lessons about betrayal as he navigates the political system, but by the end, we feel that he's become his own man and is ready to begin his ascent in the rough-and-tumble world beyond the ivory tower.


Venue: Buenos Aires International Film Festival.
Production: La Union de los Rios, Pasto Cine.
Cast: Esteban Lamothe, Romina Paula, Ricardo Felix, Valeria Correa.
Director-screenwriter: Santiago Mitre.
Producers: Augustina Llami Campbell, Santiago Mitre, Fernando Brom.
Director of photography: Gustavo Biazzi.
Production designer: Micaela Saeigh.
Editor: Delfina Castagnino.
No rating, 110 minutes.