Latin Wave 7
El Estudiante explores political drama in Argentine universities — but there'slots of sex, too
Santiago Mitre’s El Estudiante is a rather mysterious film. But please don’t think that it’s a mystery, because it’s not, at least not in the genre sense. Maybe ambiguous is a better word. Its protagonist, Roque (Esteban Lamothe), the “student” of the title, is certainly an ambiguous character.
He’s a youngish man from the Argentine provinces, but still a bit older than his fellow university students. That’s because he’s already taken one crack at higher education, dropped out, and is back now for more. But you don’t get the sense that he really knows why he’s enrolled in the university now, except that it’s a great place to get laid. In that field, he’s an honor student—and the sex scenes are filmed with real conviction.
The drama takes place in back room deals, rather than on the streets, which makes the film feel realistic and closely observed, but also rather insular.
Roque becomes involved in university politics, largely so he can successfully hit on Paula (Romina Paula), a beautiful young teacher who also speaks out on university issues—issues that I’m guessing will be over the head of most Anglo viewers.
Here’s the film’s second mystery—Argentine university politics. But they are a less compelling puzzle than is the character of Roque. Once the film’s plot kicks in, it mostly centers around political machinations, some quite Machiavellian, that have to do with control of the university.
f I understood right, younger members of the faculty, and most of the students, want a long overdue curriculum change. They also want new leaders in many of the departments. Even the national government (I think) gets involved in the hardball politics.
Here Roque finds his other great gift in life. He’s not an intellectual, or an ideologue, like many of the other students, but he’s a natural “fixer.” Political problems wind up being people problems, and he knows how to make people do what he wants.
Lamothe gives a subtle performance; he’s attractive, but you can’t figure him out. His character does change, but quietly. He doesn’t ultimately man the barricades. In fact, there are no barricades to be manned. The drama takes place in back room deals, rather than on the streets, which makes the film feel realistic and closely observed, but also rather insular. I didn’t feel touched by the issues, so it was hard to become engrossed in them.
Larger themes pop up, as when a student challenges a history teacher for ignoring the “holocaust” of the Native Peoples that the Spanish caused. He is smacked down by the teacher for romanticizing the “natives,” and not realizing how eager the original Americans had been to exploit each other long before the conquistadores arrived. But I couldn’t connect these more universal moments to the overall story.
El Estudiante is very well made and acted, but its drama didn’t speak to me. But I can well imagine that it did to its intended audience.