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El Suplente

Dir. Diego Lerman (Argentina, Italy, France, Spain, Mexico. 2022)

Lucio, a substitute literature teacher, asks his new students the following question: “What is a paradox?” Nobody answers. Part of the class stares at this man who has just appeared in their life, with boredom written all over their faces; others don't even bother to look up. The teacher, played by actor Juan Minujín (La ira de Dios), tries to ignore the uncomfortable silence. "A paradox,” he continues, "is a fact or an action that seemingly contradicts all logic.”

What else is more paradoxical than our own existence? In this world of logical—yet tangible and unignorable—contradictions, human beings themselves have become walking, talking paradoxes... who follow an unwanted path and the rules forced on them by life.

In the middle of all this, we have Lucio, our substitute teacher: a man slowly fading away as a result of his own life story. Divorced, from a broken family, unable to form a bond with his own daughter, he tries to overcome his personal troubles while teaching his class, no matter how listless his students appear to be.

Like those paradoxes of life, in this story written and directed by Diego Lerman (Una especie de familia, 2017), El suplente invites its protagonist to get involved in things that have little –or everything– to do with him: his evicted father’s –played by the ever powerful and enigmatic Alfredo Castro– “professional” life, and the unexpected connection with one of his students puts Lucio in ethical, moral and even dangerous contradictions in which there is not much time to reflect.

With tangible power, Juan Minujín transmits –at times, through his gaze alone– what these dilemmas trigger in his character and the way in which he must overcome every situation. In its own way—while also in a similar fashion to those classic stories in which teachers positively impact their students’ lives—, El suplente manages to leave something in those young people indifferent to literature who, inadvertently, begin to look at their joys and sorrows from another perspective: like a police novel, a catchy rap song or a thrilling poem...

“Where is the heart?” Lucio asks his students. This time, unlike their first encounter, everyone is looking at him very intently. Someone comes forward and points to the left side of the chest on a diagram of the human body. “Where is the brain?” the teacher asks and that same person points to the head of the figure on the blackboard. "And where is the soul?” the teacher finally asks to everyone's surprise. Nobody can answer. Then he asks them to take their pen, choose an organ of their anatomy and write whatever comes to them from the heart. Perhaps science cannot explain where the soul is, but at the very least, this movie—as the best paradox of all—can give us an idea of ​​where lies that which moves our soul and our heart at will...

–Arturo Magaña Arce @arturhd

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