Religious fundamentalism is perhaps a slightly more unconventional teenage fad than a new body piercing or tattoo but, as The Student makes clear, it works just as well at getting you out of PE. The concept – which originated in Marius von Mayenburg’s stage play – transforms into a biting satire on ideology and extremism. That which begins as a teenage affectation eventually spirals out of control, ending in a shocking climax.
Pyotr Skvortsov excels as the brilliantly charismatic yet sinister Venya. His recital of scriptural non sequiturs neatly comes across as adolescent philosophizing, while his expectation of preordained salvation translates into a truly adolescent sense of entitlement. Another particularly enjoyable aspect of the film are the visual puns Kirill Serebrennikov uses to full effect. The camera lens that follows Venya as he bears the weight of a large wooden cross is dazzled when pointed right at the sun, suggesting his religious enlightenment is very much something of a blind faith.
But the film’s comedy is disarmingly political, and it is the inconsistencies in Vladimir Putin’s curriculum that form the film’s punchline. The Student is a direct response to Putin’s recent introduction of mandatory religious education classes which, in the film, are timetabled before mandatory sex education classes to comic effect. Mostly shot from within intoxicatingly green classroom interiors, Serebrennikov punctuates his misanthrope’s “pseudo-prophetical hysterics” with anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynist slurs to underscore the consequences of an educational system that strengthens bodies instead of free-thinking minds.
The Student is a subtler take on the opium of the masses than Four Lions, which offers a fresh perspective on the coming-of-age genre. It is an acerbic state-of-the-nation essay – here’s hoping for more that speak out against the Kremlin.
CAST: Pyotr Skvortsov, Viktoriya Isakova
DIRECTOR: Kirill Serebrennikov
WRITERS: Kirill Serebrennikov (screenplay), Marius von Mayenburg (stage play)
SYNOPSIS: A high school student becomes convinced that the world is lost to evil and begins to challenge the morals and beliefs of the adults surrounding him.
We greatly appreciate that a preview screening to this film was provided by Porter Frith Ltd. and Hype Film.