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NYFF 2011. Santiago Mitre's "The Student"

Fluency in Argentinian politics is not a prerequisite for an appreciation of Mitre’s debut.

"A political coming-of-age story, Santiago Mitre's assured debut The Student (El estudiante, 2011) plots out the arc of Roque Espinoza's brief career as campus activist with sleek, mathematical precision," writes Lisa K Broad. "Introduced through a novelistic voice-over, Roque [Esteban Lamothe] begins the film as a well of untapped potential ripe for both nurturing and corruption. He carefully insinuates himself into a political group headed by the dynamic, outspoken junior professor Paula [Romina Paula] and her ruthless advisor-lover Acevedo [Ricardo Félix], and a love quickly triangle ensues. In contrast to prevailing Hollywood conventions, romantic jealousy plays no significant role in the series of alliances and betrayals that follow; in Roque and Paula's world, romantic relationships are merely a side-effect of ever-shifting of political loyalties."

Mitre "infuses The Student with a fleet political-thriller pace that can be said to reflect Roque's mindset," writes Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door. "His street smarts, however, aren't quite enough to protect him from learning some harsh truths about political compromise and realpolitik."

When the film screened at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival, "many Argentine colleagues were concerned that a North American audience might not fathom the political reference points," notes Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope. "Now, it may help to have some foreknowledge of Argentina's unique admixture of leftist and rightist ideologies, especially as they're manifested in Peronism; certainly, some sequences' full effect stems from ingenious re-creations, and mock imitations, of past pivotal political events. But The Student nonetheless sustains itself beautifully absent any viewer-supplied footnotes."

Vadim Rizov for Fandor: "The Student revels in specific acronyms to a bewildering extent but you get the idea; the students love recondite factions as much as any SDS member ever did. Indeed, the youthful activists behave much like college students the world over: they become politically active to chat up girls and cheat on their partners, they snort coke at parties with their professors, and — refreshingly, much like in the real world — this doesn't lead to third act recriminations, tears, deaths, etc. Trust the title: these are archetypal students of the moment, and Mitre takes them at face value in a portrait that rings true regardless of your personal beliefs."

Update, 10/11: "For all but its final minutes, Santiago Mitre's The Student is not a political film, but a conventional coming-of-age story set in the world of politics," argues Phil Coldiron in Slant. "Previously best known for his collaborations as a screenwriter with Pablo Carancho, Mitre views the political mechanics of the have-nots (students, both radical and not, and a handful of young teachers who are for the cause) with the same skepticism as he does the haves (conniving professors, mostly), and it's here, in its adoption of a conventional wisdom not so far from the one that's leading so many to write off the current movements in America for lack of coherence, that the film as exists as political object for most of its 110 minutes."

Updates, 10/15: Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot: "Mitre's screenplay, packed with circumstance that's often difficult to fully comprehend, has drawn comparisons to the work of Aaron Sorkin for its profusion of surface detail, voiced with the distinctive patter of a certain kind of Latin American political speech. But its underlying meaning, more than its speed, is what's truly daunting, betraying a subterfuge that one must listen closely for."

Steve Macfarlane for the L: "Mitre's film is not an integrity-as-impossible-object treatise like Sweet Smell of Success or The Social Network; in the space of two hours, Roque's consciousness evolves from nonexistent to post-embryonic. Mitre is less concerned with his failure to adopt one specific doctrine than with the growth of his politicking faculties overall."

Here in the Notebook, Michael Guillén interviews Mitre.

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