By Jaie Laplante, Executive Director & Director of Programming
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The 34-year-old Argentine filmmaker Santiago Mitre made a big impact in the Critic’s Week at Cannes last week with his second feature, La patota (which will be titled Paulina for the international markets). Mitre’s follow-up to The Student (which he presented at our Festival in 2012) is on one level a fascinating story about a woman’s choices. Just like The Student, however, an allegory for a much broader portrait of his country’s complicated political soul is unmistakably in the air.
Smart and sophisticated, the headstrong Ph.D. law candidate Paulina (the incredible Dolores Fonzi) is driven not to make a name for herself in Buenos Aires but to bring the force of her considerable personality to bear on a tense situation in a rural northern extreme of the country, next to the Paraguayan border. She sees the poor and disadvantaged residents (many of them aboriginal) as victims of exploitation and alienation, and is determined to educate the area’s youth about the political process, in the hopes of firing them up about their own potential power to change the system.
Paulina’s noble intentions as teacher of a political workshop class in a low-income high school collide with a generation too disaffected to hear anything she is saying. Instead of ideas, the atmosphere is seething with carnality and violence, and Paulina is in the wrong place at the wrong time when Ciro (Cristian Salguero), a local laborer, jilted by a girl he wishes to dominate, rapes Paulina in a case of mistaken identity.
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And this is where Mitre’s bristling film shifts audiences into a whole new gear of arousal. Paulina recovers from her physical wounds in a few days, and makes the choice to not identify herself as a victim – insisting upon returning to the school to continue on with her lessons (a.k.a., her crusade). Paulina’s father Fernando (Oscar Martinez), a local judge, and her long-term boyfriend (Esteban Lamothe) are shocked and bewildered; moreso when Paulina admits later that the “secret in the eyes” of some of her male students who are in Ciro’s patota (gang) have made clear to her the identity of her attackers. And Paulina’s fellow women colleagues at the school become wary and uncomfortable. If rape has no consequence, what future deterrent is there from unchecked masculine ego, acting out in rage at its own impotency in a harsh landscape?
Mitre and co-writer Mariano Llinas (winner of our Knight Grand Jury Iberoamerican prize in 2009, for Extraordinary Stories) expertly balance our sympathies among the characters, shifting perspectives between Paulina, Ciro, Fernando and (briefly) some of Paulina’s students; the result is an emotional powerkeg scenario. Paulina’s high-minded ideals rattle the audience like spitting firecrackers – her admirably selfless goals become impossibly entangled and inseparable from her stoically self-centered ones.
At the end of last week, the Critic’s Week jury led by Israeli filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz awarded Paulina their Grand Prize from the 54th edition’s seven nominees, and this high-profile win in Cannes is a great beginning for this impressive film. A deserved run of a good number of the world’s prestige festivals, and healthy returns in Argentina (where the film opens in theaters on June 18th), seem assured.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]