Pulsing and Frenzied, The Student Provides Insight about Argentinian Political Dissidents and the Implications of Reform


Operation Condor was a United States–aided effort to crush communism in several South American countries during the 1970s and 1980s. It empowered rightwing military dictatorships that kidnapped, tortured, and killed citizens deemed political dissidents; somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 such people died during Argentina’s Dirty War alone. Young Argentine filmmaker Santiago Mitre’s dynamically paced debut feature, The Student—an international festival hit in 2011 only now entering its U.S. theatrical premiere run—studies what can be learned from this period through the contemporary tale of Roque Espinosa (played by wide-eyed Esteban Lamothe), a pensive, aggressive young man attending the University of Buenos Aires. The son of a former leftwing activist faces initial uncertainty over what to study until a romance with liberal assistant professor Paula (Romina Paula) leads him deep into politics. He eventually abandons classes altogether to work behind the scenes to get their party elected to university positions, honing his talent for managing people on the particular behalf of older adviser and former socialist leader Alberto Acevedo (Ricardo Felix). Racing handheld camerawork and a pulsing rock score energize Roque’s bargaining and bribing for the sake of changing an institution’s antiquated customs. The film’s great force initially disguises how an electoral movement’s cries for liberty are called to win followers. Roque eventually comes to see that the essence of politics always lies with authority reducing its opposition; his key choice becomes not which leader to follow, but whether to help history repeat itself.