Since 9/11, the rise of religious fundamentalism has (if you believe the news) been spiralling out of control. Almost all the media attention has fallen on Islamic terrorism, whilst many of the atrocities perpetrated in the Western world are carried out by other forms of radicalisation. Russia is a country with many troubles, exacerbated by dictatorial leadership, corruption, unrest from within and the (growing) lack of separation between church and state. In Kirill Serebrennikov’s new film, The Student, he chooses the classroom as his arena of battle.
To the surprise of his put-upon single mother (Julia Aug), Veniamin (Petr Skvortsov) has become a staunch Christian. The problems begin when he refuses to participate in swimming at school due to the revealing costumes. His zealotry rapidly escalates as he acquires a disciple (Aleksandr Gorchilin) and verbally spars with a young biology teacher (Victoria Isakova) and an orthodox priest (Nikolay Roshchin). The headmistress (Svetlana Bragarnik) accedes to Veniamin’s demands, whilst his actions and protests become increasingly extreme.
The Student is a film bubbling with anger, energy and confrontation. Based on Martyr, a controversial play by Marius von Mayenburg, Serebrennikov unleashes an onslaught and takes no prisoners. This is kinetic film-making at its best and Skvortsov is a hypnotic lead; throwing himself with gusto into the part. The Student is a febrile, often humorous, tirade on modern Russia which pitches unqualified free-speech against a country still lost in transition.
The Student is out in cinemas from Friday.