Director Santiago Esteves's feature debut stars Germán de Silva and Matías Encinas.
There are certain things you expect from movies playing at a festival. Most of the time, it's more auteur-driven films, experimental, low-key works, a more personal style of filmmaking, movies unconcerned with their commercial prospects, and so on; this is sometimes applicable to the Lima Film Festival, as well as many others.
There’s nothing wrong with that; we all need a break from the multiplex now and then. Watching a different kind of film can be very stimulating, but exhausting at the same time, what with so many available to watch in a short timeframe. Thankfully, festivals sometimes slip in a film like La Educación del Rey (Rey’s Education), a well-made genre exercise that functions as a solid breather in between more demanding, challenging films.
The feature debut of director Santiago Esteves, the film follows Reymundo (newcomer Matías Encinas), a teenaged wannabe thief who, on the run after a botched robbery, vandalizes the house of Vargas (Germán de Silva, known as the scapegoated groundskeeper from the “Deal” segment in Wild Tales), a retired security guard. Vargas makes Rey a deal: stick around and fix the damage, and he won’t get turned into the police.
From there, things play out mostly as you would expect, with Rey ingratiating himself with Vargas and his wife and learning some life lessons from his new mentor. It’s all set against an urban backdrop which Esteves ably brings to life through gritty camerawork and natural performances from his actors. Argentine cinema is particularly effective when it comes to urban-set crime yarns, and this one is no exception.
The movie starts out as a drama and slowly morphs into a low-key thriller once Rey’s criminal cohorts come calling. Esteves delivers the usual elements: gunplay, a little bit of suspense, larger-than-life criminal personalities, and at least one twist to keep things interesting, all wrapped up in a believable surrogate father-son relationship.
For a while, it’s not clear just why Vargas is so quick to take Rey under his wing; maybe because he sees something in the boy he can’t find in his own uppity son (though this potential subplot is dropped so quickly it barely registers). Or maybe it’s that, in a world of thieves, corrupt cops and other lowlifes, there is someone who is kind-hearted and genuinely wants to do good. Vargas is certainly likable enough, though not above getting his hands dirty – just one of the many subplots which is only touched upon.
At a quick 96 minutes, La Educación del Rey is a lean, no-frills, effective little thriller, Argentina’s answer to Eastwood’s Gran Torino, with which it shares some similarities. It’s not really a festival-type film, but is all the better for it; sometimes, solid, unpretentious palate cleansers like this one go down well amongst other more high-minded festival offerings.
The Lima Film Festival wraps on 11 August.