Monday, September 13, 2010

El Estudiante: Going Back to School … at 70


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • Used by permission

When he first entered a university classroom as a student, other students at first mistakenly thought the old, gray-haired grandfather was their professor … until he sat down with them.

In the very funny comedy El Estudiante, 70-year-old Chano decides to enroll at a university in the picturesque state of Guanajuato in Mexico to study literature.

Initially, he has trouble relating to his much younger classmates. He doesn't understand the lingo they use while chatting among themselves. He's even unfamiliar with the earphones by which they listen to music from their cell phones.

When a socially inept classmate, Eduardo, comes to class without a pen and is intentionally embarrassed by the stern professor, Chano quietly slips him a ballpoint. That simple gesture helps to break the ice between him and his much-younger classmates.

But when Chano casually discovers over coffee that they are having difficulty with roles in a university play, Chano begins teaching them lessons not learned in the classroom.

“Great plays are filled with the wisdom of life,” Chano tells three Hollywood-cute guys struggling with their lines in Romeo & Juliet. “We can't get it right,” they tell him, frustrated.

Taking inspiration from Don Quixote, Chano gets intense and angrily tells them, “You've got to find it. You must make it your own. You must share it,” he tells classmates Marcelano, Santiago and Lalo.

The comedy will be screened in Spanish, with English subtitles. at the Ultra Star Cinemas in the Hazard Shopping Center in Mission Valley October 8-14 by the Media Arts Center, which produces the annual Latino Film Festival in the spring.

Chano suggests that his classmates read their lines to strangers on campus and on the street. And somehow it works.

Surprised, little street kids applaud the impromptu mini-rehearsals. The guys unexpectedly win over their reluctant girlfriends. Street mimes even get involved.

Chano, however, has to adapt creatively when he attends a university party where dancing is dramatically different from the slow cheek-to-cheek style of his youth decades before. Yet, in funny ways, he adjusts.

There are so many things about life's challenges that are not found in the books or in classrooms, and which grandfather Chano teaches his younger classmates … and they warmly accept him socially.

When a literature professor has her class divide into small discussion groups, he is left out initially. Classmate Santiago unexpectedly breaks the ice and invites him to join his group, and Chano begins to fit in.

Being back on campus “brought back feelings long forgotten,” he says later. Some of his professors — much younger than he — have difficulty with Chano in their classes. They uncomfortably realize that he is much older, and sometimes wiser, than they.

“I never thought being a student again would teach me so much about life,” Chano confesses to his wife at home. When she unexpectedly dies, his classmates make special efforts to support him quietly in his sudden grief.

El Estudiante relies on pure drama, rather than Hollywood-style guns, explosions and violence.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or