Details: 110mins, Argentina,
Synopsis: Roque (Esteban Lamothe) leaves his provincial hometown for the University of Buenos Aires but he has no intention of focusing on his classes. He’s more interested in notching up sexual conquests. He becomes interested in fervent Paula (Romina Paula) and university politics as a way to woo her. Yet soon he discovers he has a talent for wheeling, dealing and underhanded opportunism. Roque rapidly ingratiates himself with a number of campus political leaders and becomes embroiled in a campaign to bring reforms to a depleted academic system.
Political drama presents intriguing questions.
a textbook study of how politicians of all stripes live their lives and learn their trade
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: A fascinating thing about Argentinean film The Student is the way such a simple – even obvious – title takes on a whole new meaning as the film progresses. Set in Buenos Aires, Santiago Mitre’s debut feature begins with the arrival of provincial student Roque (Esteban Mamothe) on his second attempt at getting an undergraduate degree. As a slightly off-putting voice-over informs the audience of Roque’s background, the visual narrative shows him effortlessly picking up comely fellow student Paula (Romina Paula), insinuating himself into her social life, her bed, and scoring a place to live at her father’s house. And then, just as rapidly, Roque moves onto another woman. It’s the first in a series of ascensions that sees Roque move higher and higher.
The story sharpens focus when Roque encounters associate professor and a powerful political spokesperson, Valeria (Valeria Correa). Despite the fact that she is rumoured to be the mistress of a senior lecturer, Roque clearly sees her as his next conquest. However, to conclude that this film is a love triangle between two women and a manipulative man is to be premature. This scenario is just the gateway to the film’s real enquiry into politics.
Politics is present in many aspects of the screenplay, from Roque’s discussions with Paula’s father to the stand-up fights students forcefully conduct with their teachers in Roque’s classes. But Mitre’s script is less concerned about Left versus Right versus Centre, than with the art of politics itself: How does the political animal move higher in pursuit of power and influence and still maintain friendships (or at least alliances) when ambition necessitates frustrating or even destroying other peoples’ aspirations? This is the art in which Roque is an A-grade student.
Shot in a documentary style (by four different cinematographers!) with the near compulsory wobblecam, The Student is a textbook study of how politicians of all stripes live their lives and learn their trade. Once it’s clear where the narrative is heading (and real-life politicians and wannabe politicians will be ahead of most of us), the drama of the film comes from the accumulation of these student politics intrigues to beg the question: How far can Roque push his ambition?
A puzzling aspect of the film is that in this university, student politics is not a sideshow as it is (now more than ever) in Australian universities. In this Buenos Aires institution, students are on an equal footing with academics and the administration in forming a government to run the university. As the film makes no big deal of this, it would seem that this arrangement may not be so unusual in Argentina.
The script is well-constructed and intricate, but much of the enjoyment comes from how smoothly director Mitre pushes his seamless charges through their paces. Each performance feels authentic, enhancing the film’s documentary style. Despite touching all our lives, politics is not a subject that draws large movie audiences. However, The Student demonstrates how much we have to learn and that of which we should be wary.
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