Saturday, August 17, 2013

The lure of politics, Argentine style: Santiago Mitre's EL ESTUDIANTE


A hands-on, hand-held look at today's politics, university-style in Argentina, EL ESTUDIANTE is one surprisingly engulfing movie, though it will please the most, I suspect, audiences who already have an interest in and appreciation for both political theory and the way that politics works -- or doesn't -- in the real world.

Written and directed by Buenos Aires-born Santiago Mitre (shown at left and up to now best known as a screenwriter who has collaborated often with Pablo Trapero), this multi-awarding-winning movie from 2011 tracks the budding career of a young university student, Roque, who quickly becomes part of a political group at his school, the better to make friends, fit in and get some quick and reliable sex going. As played by Esteban Lamothe, below, our non-hero is relatively inscrutable and prefers to keep it that way. Good-looking but nothing special, savvy but private regarding his real interests, he would seem to fit right in with politics as we know it: full of lies, betrayals, theft and the occasional help/favor, always with a price tag attached.

If El Estudiante is to be believed (I think it is), in Argentina student-politics are much more important than they are here in the USA and would seem to reflect (and maybe lead into) politics on a city, state and national level.

Spurred on by the daliance of his initial girlfriend (Valeria Correa, above, center) with another fellow, Roque does the same with one of his student teachers, Paula (Romina Paula, below, recently seen in the wonderful Viola), an activist with good connections to some higher-ups that prove quite helpful for our boy.

One of these is a certain Alberto Acevedo (played with quite the right combo of honesty and close-to-the-vest intentions by Ricardo Felix, below right), who is looked up to by just about all the students of his political persuasion.

Through it all, we sit in on classes, meetings and social gatherings, where the conversation always turns political and gossipy. And so, little by little, just as does Roque, we learn what's going on and watch our boy climb, then slip, up and down the ladder of university politics. Who's playing whom here? Everyone, it seems.

But that's all right because, as another character puts it to Roque after he's suffered quite a dip in reputation: "No one will remember it in three months." Sounds just like the good 'ol USA and Mark Sanford, no? I'm not sure I buy the film's final bit of finagling, because wouldn't the finagled person easily know what had happened and who had done it? Maybe that is actually the point, for the power position has suddenly moved again.

Another point that this dense but very entertaining movie seems to make is that power accrues to those who are best at gaining and using it, even as they are completely bereft of any loyalty to a group or a cause. Sound familiar? Señor Mitre has cast his movie well, with actors who look their parts, and directed it in a style that buries most of the exposition within his well-crammed dialog. We must listen carefully and still maybe not get all the local references. But we get enough. El Estudiante is a very smart political melodrama, university-level.

The movie -- from Cinema Tropical and Alpha Violet, and running 110 minutes -- opens this coming Thursday, April 22, at MoMA for a week-long run. Click here to see all playdates, venues and times.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good review, just one thing: the city where Mitre was born is called Buenos Aires, not Burenos Aires.

James van Maanen said...

Oy! Proofread it once, twice, thrice -- and -- shit! -- I still miss those typos. Thanks, Anonymous, for catching this one, which is now corrected.