Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 11 NYFF: Escaping (Cults) and Embracing (Politics)

Esteban Lamothe as Roque in "The Student."Photo from 49th New York Film Festival.

THE Student (“El Estudiante”) could also be titled “The Political Education of Roque.”

In the film, which has its second and last screening tomorrow at the 49th New York Film Festival, Esteban Lamothe is in fine form as Roque, the student of the title who enrolls in a nondescript public college in Buenos Aires. Roque has three things on his mind and none is his studies.

Roque is content to exist in the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll scene until he attends a rally where the fascinating Paula (Romina Paula) is among the speakers. She is a child of revolutionaries who has been involved in various causes since she was very young. Roque is even more fascinated by Paula after he enrolls in her class. It is through Paula’s class that he gains entrée into her political circle at the university.

In an interview after the press screening of his arch political drama, first-time director Santiago Mitre said for many Argentines the public university is the entry point into politics. At this university, like in many societies, there are many political factions.

The factions are all fighting for the same thing: control. A very few members are true believers. Most, however, talk a good game about throwing off the shackles of Peronism, demanding that students be taught the (whose?) truth and fighting for better student services, etc. In the final analysis, though, they are supremely self-interested. Roque, the son of a Peronist, throws in with a group espousing other theories. It doesn’t matter, for allegiance is pliable and ephemeral.

Much of the action in “The Student” takes place in bars, restaurants and coffeehouses. Doubtless, politics makes one thirsty and hungry. Politics also inspires loquaciousness, though the dialogue is snappy and engaging. To increase the tension and drama around this excessive jawing, SM relies on a soundtrack more appropriate for a thriller or horror film, infusing “The Student” with an undercurrent of whimsy and vaingloriousness.

Roque rises quickly in the ranks, owing to his facility for organizing people and fomenting dissent and protest. Professor Alberto Acevedo and student adviser
(Ricardo Felix) also sees this potential and exploits Roque’s talents.

John Hawkes, Elizabeth Olsen, Louisa Krause and Christopher Abbott in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In politics, Argentine-style, someone you idolize, respect and trust can betray you at the worst possible moment in the name of expediency. A comrade-in-arms may even attempt to manipulate you after his betrayal, thinking he can play you for a fool for a second time. Sound familiar? Is this the case only in Argentina? The political machinations have universal relevance, SM discovered, from audiences in various countries around the world – Chile, Greece, Israel, among them. It is in such circumstances that Roque gets the bulk of his education.

Though “The Student” could have easily been 30 minutes shorter, it is engrossing until the end, which comes on a sort of exclamation point.

“The Student” is in Spanish with English subtitles.

Disconnecting and deprogramming are at the center of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” Sean Durkin’s thriller debuting at NYFF tonight.

The film follows the story of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) who has escaped from a cult in the Catskill Mountains and is recovering at the home of her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Martha may need more than the love she is receiving in the bosom of her family because she believes members of the cult, led by Patrick (John Hawkes), are still watching her. (See trailer below).

The film, which won the best director award in the drama category for SD at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, is scheduled for a limited release in the United States on 21 Oct.

Other screenings and events today at NYFF include “Pigs and Battleships,” “HBO Films Directors Dialogues: Abel Ferrara,” “To Union or Not to Union: Casting & Working with Actors in Low Budget Indies,” and “Intentions of Murder.”

Visit http://www.filmlinc.com/nyff2011/schedule to learn more about the 49th New York Film Festival: including schedule, repeat screenings, ticket and venue information.

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