Friday, October 07, 2011

The 49th New York Film Festival: The Student

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. Introduced through a novelistic voice-over, Roque 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 and her ruthless advisor-lover Acevedo, 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.

The film employs a smooth and economical pattern of elliptical match cuts that reflect Roque’s fluid movement between the academic, political, and social worlds. Early in the narrative, a series of kisses take Roque and Paula from a political meeting to her apartment in the blink of an eye. Much of the film is shot in close-up, the camera fixed on the solemn visage of Esteban Lamothe, who delivers a guarded yet charismatic performance in the title role – his dark eyes reveal flickers of emotion that are belied by his even, watchful expression. A delicate use of rack-focus isolates characters in the foreground from their surroundings, providing a visual corollary to the pattern of inclusion and exclusion that structures the larger narrative.

The Student will screen twice at the New York Film Festival, on Saturday, October 8 at 12:30 PM and Wednesday, October 12 at 6:00 PM.

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