December 9, 2013
El estudiante screens at NY’s MoMA
Argentine filmmaker Santiago Mitre’s opera prima El estudiante, first seen at the 2011 edition of BAFICI and then an arthouse hit at Buenos Aires’ Malba Museum of Latin American Art and the Sala Leopoldo Lugones, is now being shown through August 28 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Starring Esteban Lamothe in his first big screen lead, El estudiante follows the transformation of Roque Espinosa, newly arrived from a small town to pursue his academic studies and instead falling for a young lecturer (Romina Paula) and getting involved with politics.
El estudiante, scripted by Santiago Mitre himself, is structured around the same good old narrative pattern: the rise and fall, the loss of innocence, the inexorable road to corruption of somebody who learns the hard way that there’s no room in this world for utopias or just plain ideology.
At first, posters, flyers, pamphlets, grafitti, heated debate, do not arouse Espinosa’s curiosity or interest — his only obsession is jumping from bed to bed with fellow students. But there comes a fateful day when he stumbles upon an assistant teacher, Paula Casti-llo. The testosterone-filled Roque feels a compelling attraction for Paula, an ardent believer in ideology as the engine for change.
After a few awkward attempts to approach Paula, Roque finally gets his way, bedding Paula but, this time, getting no “about last night” desire to run off. Paula is not just another bed partner in a long string of one-night stands — involuntarily so, she instills in her lover-student the imperative need for commitment to a cause.
At times resorting to documentary-style voiceover, El estudiante develops the kind of narrative normally associated with a literary genre: the dramatized account, in the shape of a novel, of the protagonist’s transformation. It is certainly Roque’s case — from uninvolved, apathetic student, he gradually grows into the leader of politicized and polarized students.
An accurate depiction of the world of students’ political activism and struggle for power, El estudiante has this strange, thought-provoking timeline that, without overemphasis, sends us back to the days when consensus and dissent were seen as the two faces of sociopolitical concern, opening half-closed eyes to the shattering realization that conviction grows as much from honest belief as it does from personal convenience.
Mitre’s well-balanced script — seamlessly edited into a coherent, solid whole — branches out into several subplots converging on the collective, baffling sensation that we’ve all been looking elsewhere, concentrated on the minutiae of our equally minuscule personal universe.
This is where El estudiante hits the hardest, proving, indeed, that it is an almost universal illustration of how things really work.
The transformation of Roque Espinosa allows Mitre to tell an individual story that projects itself as a sweeping view of what politics, activism and involvement are really like.
In short, an illuminating view of substantial issues we seldom stop to consider, even less so study at length.