Thursday, April 20, 2017

Religion rides again in Kirill Serebrennikov's Russian cautionary tale, THE STUDENT

But this time, praise whoever, it's Russian fundamentalist-style Christianity (rather than the Muslim religion) that's front and center, as a very hot-looking young student makes it clear to his peers, his teachers, the school administration and his mom how the world around them is going to hell in that proverbial handbasket. But if you are expecting something akin to the fine German film The Wave, in which crazy political ideas take the place of religious ones, stop right there.
This is all about one young man's perception of god and what that big guy really wants.

In THE STUDENT, the interesting and provocative new film from Russian screenwriter and director Kirill Serebrennikov, shown at right (which he adapted from the play by Marius von Mayenburg), the young and clearly all-too-impressionable high schooler named Venia (from Veniamin) has somehow got it in his head that the world he lives in is no damned good. From the outset the movie makes clear against what Venia -- played with remarkable reality and charisma by the young, sexy Pyotr Skvortsov (on poster, top. and bellow) -- is railing: the Russia pictured here looks like a teenage Sodom & Gomorrah, with beaucoup nudity, full-frontal male and female, and plenty of sex. Golly, what would Vladimir Putain -- oops, sorry: Putin -- whose picture we note on the wall of the school principal's office, have to say about all this?

The Church is certainly no help here. As Venia notes, the local priest has himself been thoroughly co-opted: His sage advice to Venia's weak-willed mom goes something like, "People who pray live longer. It's been proven!"

Venia's best friend, Grisha the cripple (Aleksandr Gorchilin, above) has the hots for our sloe-eyed, thick-lipped anti-hero, but since, according to Venia, god hates faggots, this relationship is not going to end well.

His peers makes fun of Venia, all except for Lidiya (Alekandra Revenko), who tries to seduce him, while the school principal, a relic of older times, seems almost willing to cave in to the kid's religious nonsense, suggesting, or maybe pleading, to his instructor, "Why can't you teach both theories -- evolution and religion?"

That instructor, very well acted by Viktoriya Isakova (above, right), is your textbook progressive: smart, forward-thinking and caring. But she's no match for a guy with god on his side.

How all this plays out is alternately shocking and ugly, obvious and unexpected. It asks the question, Just what constitutes fertile ground for the seed of religious fanaticism? Its answer is a populace that combines religious faith with fear and stupidity (This sounds something like Trump's America, no?), with the result, as one character in the film reminds us, leading to totalitarianism.

The Student, a hugely entertaining and hot little movie, does not end in any nice, neat, wrapped-and-ready bundle. Which is all the better. It is worth checking out, particularly if you want yet another incisive and scary look at the modern Russian state.

From Under the Milky Way, the movie opens tomorrow, Friday, April 21, in San Francisco at the Four Star Theater, and on April 28 in Chicago at Facets Cinematheque. A nationwide limited release will follow.

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