Kirill Serebrennikov’s adaptation of the The Student aims to be a satirical warning about the dangers of the reactionary mentality and a critique of a flawed educational system; but it falls flat and merely reflects the incapacity of people nowadays to understand the complex problems of a broken modernity.
At the beginning of The Student, Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov sets up a disturbing scenario where a frustrated but resolute teenager, Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov), armed only with a worn-out bible, starts a crusade against upsetting matters like bullying and the over-sexualised body culture in his school; things that have become part of actual school life, not only in Russia but in almost any modern country.
It’s not difficult to feel some sympathy for Venya’s cause, especially after watching how a group of jocks throw their disabled classmate Grishna (Aleksandr Gorchilin) into a garbage dumpster; but this sympathy quickly dissipates as we cannot find any redeeming qualities in Venya’s dogmatic mentality.
Opposing the biblical literalism of the protagonist we find Elena (Viktoriya Isakova), a biology teacher who tries to promote safe sex and a rational view of the world in a school system where the portrait of President Putin has replaced the one of Lenin over the classroom blackboard. But she does not succeed in neutralising the disruptive tactics of Venya, such as stripping himself naked in front of his classmates or wearing a gorilla costume to mock the theory of evolution. Her methods are severely questioned by the school’s director (Svetlana Bragarnik) a character who embodies the struggle of an open mentality that tries to rise among the regressive conservatism of Putin’s Russia.
Venya also encounters the blunt seductive opposition of Lidiya (Aleksandra Revenko), the school’s nymphet, who is the only one able to expose Venya’s vulnerability taking advantage of his repressed sexual urges but also with the strength of a liberated young woman who fiercely responds to any attempt at violence against her.
As Elena tries to explain, the world is not static but is in constant evolution. Unfortunately the characters of the movie don’t reflect this idea as they don’t have the chance to evolve. They lack depth so they become static cardboard stereotypes: the bible quoting fanatic, the distressed mother or the over-jealous rationalist. At the end the tensions between the characters become weak and the movie becomes tiresome before reaching a predictable and anticlimactic end.
Serebrennikov’s adaptation of the play by German author Marius von Mayenburg aims to be a satirical warning about the dangers of the reactionary mentality promoted by Putin with the support of the Russian Orthodox Church and a critique of a flawed educational system; but it falls flat and merely reflects the incapacity of people nowadays to understand the complex problems of a broken modernity.
By Carlos H. Guzmán