‘The substitute’: the myth of the good teacher is imperishable

Despite their lack of originality, there are enduring models of films: those that, due to their theme, regardless of their reiterated narrative formula and characters, affect successive generations and societies. The stories of teaching adolescents in slum schools are among them. Education, the good and the bad, the impulsive and the apathetic, the one that forges characters, will always be present.

Argentina Alternate, Set in an impoverished neighborhood of Buenos Aires, it is the last one, and it is a remarkable work in all its aspects. He has written and directed it Diego Lermannwhich has been focused on big issues for more than a decade, those that are defined in just a couple of words, with four consecutive films since 2010: the failed the unseen gaze, allegory of the Argentine military dictatorship; the very estimable Refugee, on gender and vicarious violence, with an excellent treatment of off-screen; and the uneven A kind of family about surrogates. The fourth, Alternate, it is the strongest from start to finish.

“Can someone tell me what literature is for?” asks the new teacher of the subject, the substitute, in the first minute of his first day of class. “I never read”; yawning and snoring; elusive or challenging glances; “it’s useless”. And surely all the answers are correct. You just have to order them. In a time when (almost) everything in life is seen in practical terms, what is literature for? The beautiful words of Juan Gelman’s poetry go in one ear and out the other, but the spontaneous, fast, acid and critical rhymes of the class rapper are the first opening for the meeting between educator and students. In the background, outside the bubble of the classroom, brothers killed by shootings, fathers in jail, heroin addict mothers, drug dealer boys.

Lerman has composed a film that, at the same time, can be a popular film and a work of authorship. In the dialogues, the events and the plots that surround the educator there is a certain classicism; the one that helps all kinds of viewers enter, the one that brings together. However, the staging has a crumb: continuous shots from outside the action, with the sound of the chat barely audible, with glass partitions, windows ajar or even closed, and doors with an integrated window, acting as a barrier between the gaze of the audience and the words and actions of the characters, thus turning the viewer into a kind of privileged voyeur who peers into a new reality with the value of the almost forbidden.

With a small part of Spanish co-production, and the secondary presence of Barbara Lennie, Alternate, starring the excellent Juan Minujín, never judges, although he advocates a kind of humanism in which curiosity and education could act as social support. However, aware of the difficulties of the human being, he neither gives clear answers nor does he offer magic recipes. Lerman, in the line of works such as evil seed, Rebellion in the classrooms Y ClassHe knows that in another few years movies like this will continue to be made, because little or nothing will have been fixed.


Direction: Diego Lerman.

Performers: Juan Minujin, Alfredo Castro, Barbara Lennie, Rita Cortese.

Gender: drama. Argentina, 2022.

Duration: 109 minutes.

Premiere: January 13.

All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.



The literary novelties analyzed by our best critics in our weekly bulletin


Subscribe to continue reading

Read without limits

We would love to give thanks to the writer of this post for this remarkable content

‘The substitute’: the myth of the good teacher is imperishable