The Substitute (El Suplente)

The Substitute

A substitute teacher gets involved when one of his students is threatened by a drug kingpin.

The Substitute’ is an Argentinian film about a substitute teacher in a rough suburb of Buenos Aires, who gets himself caught up with a local druglord when he tries to help one of his students. It is a story we’ve seen before in countless other teacher-as-mentor dramas (a plug to watch ‘The Class’ if you haven’t!), but it is solidly told by director Diego Lerman, who is at home with the social issue drama even as the edgy thriller trying to break out never really amounts to much.

Lucio (Juan Minujín) is a down on his luck poet who finds himself having to take a substitute teaching job after his recent divorce leaves him strapped for cash. The school he gets a job at is in a tough area with iron gates separating the school from the outside, where there are regular protests about the deprived conditions of the area with drugs a major problem. He is hired to teach literature to mostly uninterested pupils, but he gradually starts to win them round and develops a bond with some of the class, in particular a teenage boy called Dylan who he knew previously as he worked in his dad’s kitchen. It’ll come as no surprise that Dylan will find himself in trouble for naively dealing drugs on school grounds, which angers local druglord ‘El Perro’, a rival of Lucio’s father with mayoral ambitions in a story thread that isn’t really developed and remains on the margins.

This situation forces Lucio to make a choice to intervene to help protect Dylan, despite the potential consequences to himself, and this drives much of the latter part of the film as Lucio tries to get Dylan to safety from El Perro and his men. I thought the performances were good, and was impressed by the handheld shooting approach which gives the movie an edgy cinema verité feel, but the writing is quite cliched and the story never strays too far away from what we expect, making ‘The Substitute’ a solid movie, but far less interesting than it could have been.

Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Diego Lerman

Starring: Juan Minujín, Bárbara Lennie, Alfredo Castro, María Merlino, Lucas Arrua, Rita Cortese and Renata Lerman

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