The Student (Uchenik)
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov
Cast: Petr Skvortsov, Victoria Isakova, Aleksandr Gorchillin
Language: Russian with English subtitles
Country of Origin: Russia 2016 118 mins. (15)
Official Selection 2016 Cannes International Film Festival, Un Certain Regard
Released by Matchbox Films
A surreal, satirical touch runs through writer-director Krill Serebrennikov's adaptation of Marius Von Mayenburg's play 'Martyr' which he transfers to contemporary Russia and sets it in the city of Kalingrad on the Baltic coast.
Venya Yuzhina (Piotr Skvortsov) a disillusioned teenager has a full-on fundamental christian awakening and will spread the word and win the day, whatever it takes. His single mother Inga (Julia Aug) is bemused, bewildered and at odds at what to do as are his teachers who are drawn in by a teenager who swears only by scripture. Classes with the Orthodox priest Father Vsevolod (Nicolai Roschin) do little to quell Venya's fundamentalism and there's even a hint of admiration. Only his liberal minded Jewish biology teacher Elena Krasnova (Victoria Isakova) will take him on but he'll deal with her.
Bible in hand, quoting chapter and verse (which appears on screen) Venya goes for an all-out assault on his fellow students and teachers. Nothing is exempt - girls wearing bikinis in swimming classes, sex education, homosexuality, feminism and Darwinism. Conflicted sexuality, antisemitism and accusations of sexual molestation will surface. Forcefully persuasive, Venya's on a roll in a no-holds barred assault and he has his admirers - Lidiya (Aleksandra Revenko), a sexually liberated fellow student makes a move but is rejected but handicapped Grigoriy (Abksandr Gorchiilin) becomes a willing acolyte as Venya spirals out of control.
The separation of church and state is long gone.Politically ambitious Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus' collaborates closely with the state under Vladimir Putin who made religious education in schools mandatory. Attitudes to sexual diversity and freedom of expression are well known.
With strong performances, hard hitting scenes and beautifully shot, 'The Student' is a powerful, intriguing, cautionary tale that couldn't come at a more opportune time.