Review By Mark Merrell
Sometimes you can take things too far, push the limits of reasonable behavior, and impose viewpoints on others. In most circumstances, this may appear as crossing the lines of others personal space, free will. But, if you sight religions guidelines, including the Bible (in this case) is it acceptable, knowing that if you fail to follow God’s word you are doomed to eternal damnation?
That is the premise at work in, The Student. Adapted from Marius Von Mayen’s play, Martyr, we are asked to consider just that. Veniamin (Pyotr Skvortsov, Laskovv maya) is a high school student. He lives with his mom, Inga (Yuliya Aug, Metamorphosis, Catherine). She is divorced, and working three jobs. The movie begins as we follow Inga to a sterile looking building. Once inside, it’s as stark as a prison, until she reaches the top of the first flight of stairs, and opens the door.
Inga tells her son, Veniamin that she has been informed by his high school that has not participated in gym class. Specifically, he refuses to put on a swimsuit and get in the pool. His mom asks what the problem is, and just as most parents when they don’t get a response, she guesses and questions her son. Finally he explains somewhat jokingly that it’s because of religious reasons.
His mother laughs, and says he doesn’t really follow any religion, but agrees to write a note to excuse her son from participating in swimming, but only if he provide some other reason.
The moment doesn’t come off as serious, but it is pivotal, as a jumping-off point in the movie. The next time we see Veniamin, he is carrying a pocket bible at school the fallowing day, appearing aggravated by what his his seeing around him.
Girls are wearing bikinis, and he thinks they should be more modest. He suddenly jumps in the pool with all of his clothes on, resulting in a trip to the principals office, where he is confronted by the principal, Lyudmila Stuka (Svetlana Bragarnik) his gym teacher, Oleg (Anton Vasilev), a school councilor Elena (Viktoriya Isakova, Piranha, The Island), and his mother. At first, Lyudmila wants to punish Veniamin for his actions, but then he explains how he thinks bikinis are inappropriate, and quotes the Bible in doing so. This causes an enthusiastic discussion by all involved.
After some deliberation, Lyudmila relents, looking up the rules for the school, and deciding with Venya that the girls should wear a one piece swimsuit. She also does not punish Veniamin for his actions.
As the movie progresses, Veniamin becomes more aggressive in his behavior and the way he expresses his beliefs to an extreme, disrupting class, especially the one taught by Elena. She seems to be the voice of reason, coming also from a standpoint of science explaining things, which in turn enrages Veniamin. He continues to quote the Bible and passages, becoming somewhat of a zealot, not open to any ideas and thoughts other than his own, while his principal, almost comically, keeps siding with him, regardless, frustrating Elena.
Directed and written by Kirill Serebrennikov, he purposely pushes Venya’s position beyond a reasonable level, but he does so to prove a point and open a dialogue about religion, making the audience look at what happens once there is no compromise, only a dictatorship, or is it? Perhaps the film can also be interpreted as an allegory indirectly taking a political and philosophical, ‘shot’ at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Just as with a painting or song, or in this case a movie, the interpretation of art is left to its beholder.
Irregardless, The Student is a great film, and everyone plays their part perfectly, especially Vicktoriya as Elena, Yuliya playing the mom, and, of course Pyotr Skvortsov as Veniamin. Svetlana Bragarnik delivered a superb job as principal Lyudmila Stuka, as does Aleksandr Gorchilin Veniamin’s friend, Grigoriy Zaytsev.
THE STUDENT, which opens in San Francisco (Four Star Theater) on April 21, Chicago (Facets Cinematheque ) on April 28 and in Miami on June 2 (Miami Beach Cinematheque) with a wider national release to follow.
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