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EL ESTUDIANTE (2011, ARG) – 8/10

After presenting himself with this clever and dynamic political drama at the Locarno festival (and winning a special jury award), the then 31-year-old Argentine filmmaker Santiago Miter was nicknamed the Latin American Aaron Sorkin. Miter, meanwhile, has yet to confirm that epithet because “El estudiante” or “The Student” still stands out as his best film by far, a masterfully written and equally well-directed drama about a student who will get involved in a political whirlpool. That student is Roque (Esteban Lamothe), no longer as young as I would have described in my pre-Bologna times as an eternal student. He studied medicine and then economics, and now he is back at the university in Buenos Aires and he enrolled in political science.

But studying him, it seems to us at first, interests him much less than all the benefits that student life offers. Going out, nightlife, students, there is plenty of it in the life of this young man who is a first-class seducer, and soon his 29-year-old politically engaged assistant Valeria (Valeria Correa) will be on his target. And at first Roque seems completely uninterested in politics even though the situation on campus is standard South American politically electrified and students are constantly protesting, organizing some actions, arguing about the political situation and a bit naive and utopian almost all of them are leftist. But according to Roque, the situation will change when he starts seducing Valeria and he will be politically engaged in order to impress her.

The election for the dean of the faculty is approaching, and Roque will join the group to which Valeria also belongs and will support her candidate, the old eminent professor Alberto Aveceda (Ricardo Felix), a former politician. Very soon Roque will be completely addicted to political games, gimmicks and everything that goes with it, and the somewhat naive idealistic enthusiasm that appeared in him at the beginning will soon turn into classic pragmatism. And he won’t be one of those outspoken candidates, but more like some background deal-maker, and Roque seems to realize that the task he embarked on was made for him. He will prove to be outstanding in his work, as a guy who does a great job behind the scenes, who is great at manipulating others, and who manipulates people equally well.

But he won’t even realize that he’s actually drawn into a network of much more serious and much prefrigrated political rivals in whose bigger game he’ll serve as a pawn. The self-confidence and results he seems to be achieving seem to blind Roque completely and he will take off too high. He shot Miter’s remarkably realistic drama about politics, the election race and background games, which can also be seen as a parable about high politics and political elites who attract such somewhat naive types to their ranks and offer them a sense of power, an illusion of importance, and when you realize that they are used and that they are the most common cannon fodder, it is usually too late. “El estudiante” was filmed in a classic realistic style, with a hand-held camera, and it is all the more impressive because it was made really with a micro-budget. An impressive film about the desire and need of young people to get involved in something for which they may not even understand what is pulling them and breaking the illusions about how politics actually works.

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