Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Student

The Student/El Estudiante (Santiago Mitre - Argentina) 110 minutes

On more than one occasion in Santiago Mitre’s second feature I asked myself: ‘why am I watching this?’ The tale of an Argentine student of pliable political sensibilities and his rise in student and university politics, it has little in its subject matter that ought to be of interest to anyone outside of a small sector of Argentine society. The Student, is, however, a surprisingly watchable and well-constructed tale of political intrigue. And if Danish politics is a subject worthy of internationally successful drama these days, why not Argentine university administration elections?

The titular student is Roque (played by Esteban Lamothe), a provincial starting college in Buenos Aires for the second time, who quickly loses interest in his studies to become involved in institutional politics, mainly to try and get off with Paula (Romina Paula), an attractive junior lecturer. Roque’s political skills, though they are not terribly obvious from anything the film shows us, gain the interest of  Alberto Acevedo (Ricardo Felix), a one-time ministerial attaché, who is mounting a push for the rectorate of Roque’s university. Roque is from a Perónist family, something that will be of only passing interest for many viewers but is clearly crucial for a full understanding of the film’s politics. Acevedo, on the other hand, is affiliated with a non-defined centre-left grouping that seems to be prepared to jump into bed with anyone to get into power.

I was drawn to The Student mainly by the presence of Pablo Trapero on the credits. Trapero has directed a string of excellent character-driven crime dramas in recent years and Mitre - who scripted Trapero’s last film but one, Carancho - has the older director’s verve and his keen sensibility for the nocturnal wild of Buenos Aires. Knowing that Mitre shot much of his film on the hoof, without official permission, makes it all the more impressive. As I said before, you are likely to heave loudly at some of minutiae of the parochial drama being played out on screen, but it is expertly handled, and paced like a slick thriller. When he takes up less recondite material, Mitre stands to be a director worth watching. The Student is a strange beast of a film but worth watching despite its unpromising subject matter.