There’s a clichéd view of student life that crosses all boundaries: university is the time to “find one’s identity” and live life to the fullest. Up to a point, this is the life of Roque (Esteban Lamothe), who arrives in Buenos Aires for a third crack at sleeping his way through studentdom. But all it takes is one professor to change one’s destiny, and in Santiago Mitre’s Balzacian debut, her name is Paula.
What starts off as sexual attraction for Roque morphs into the need to impress this politically engaged hottie, and segues further into Roque’s immersion in the games of student-level realpolitik. A fluid and fast-paced example of primo storytelling, El estudiante combines the best of two of Mitre’s producing collaborators, both leading lights in the New Argentine cinema: Mariano Llínas—especially regarding the use of multiple characters and an intermittent voiceover—and Pablo Trapero (with whom Mitre co-wrote Leonera and Carancho), whose Porteño police drama, El bonaerense, is a similarly themed country-mouse-turned-city-rat film.
The commitment to political exploration may seem something out of the late ‘60s, and El estudiante might seem excessively coy in its abstractness (we never find out much about the parties—but can guess). Yet along with presenting a living, breathing illustration of the machinations of power in action, Mitre is also digging into a recent sociological phenomenon—such student activity is becoming more common in Buenos Aires in the Kirchner era.Mark Peranson