Religion always has been and always will be a controversial subject that will draw all sorts of opinions. Teenagers are at an age where they are becoming aware of the realities of the world for the first time, and one of the big revelations that they will face is about religion. Russian filmmaker, Kirill Serebrennikov’s latest film, The Student, doesn’t shy away from the confrontational realities of being outspoken about your religious beliefs and what happens when you speak out against those who view the world differently.
Adapted from the play, Martyr, by Russian playwright, Marius Von Mayenburg, The Student explores high school boy, Venya’s (Pyotr Skvortsov) religious awakening, and his heavy handed methods of expressing his beliefs at school. Venya frequently clashes with his agnostic but Jewish-born science teacher, Elena (Victoria Isakova), whom unsuccessfully tries to teach her class about sex and evolution with Venya preaching about the religious ramifications on these subjects. Both Venya’s mother (Julia Aug) and principal (Svetlana Bragarnik) interject with their strong opinions, resulting in clashes across the board.
The Student is like a Lars Von Trier coming of age movie – it’s all dim lighting, bland colours, and confrontational subject matter. It’s also not unlike an aggressive male version of the similarly themed German film, Stations Of The Cross, in which a teenage girl follows her blind faith in God to her ultimate demise. Either way, The Student is very grim.
The acting is phenomenal all around, but especially from Skvortsov and Isakova. The audience will feel intimidated by Skvortsov and his character’s fundamentalist ways, and Isakova’s performance is absolutely heartbreaking. Their scenes together are the most aggressive, specifically when Venya objects to Elena’s teachings by getting naked in class during a sexual education lesson; he also dresses as an ape to mock Elena’s beliefs in evolution. Whether you are religious, atheist, or somewhere in between, The Student is gripping and thought provoking.
Originally published here at filmink.com.au on Wednesday 12 October 2016