The Student (Uchenik)

Kirill Serebrennikov’s seventh film uses the character of a radicalised student within the microcosm of a high school to make points about religion, interpretation and tolerance within modern Russia, arguing that certain textual passages – they happen to come from the Bible, in this case, and are duly referenced on screen while being quoted – can be edited in such a way as to fit with an individual’s ideology, however extreme that may be. Pyotr Skvortsov plays the student in question, Venya, whose disruptive behaviour at home and in school threatens to get out of hand, while his nemesis is the progressive, forward-thinking teacher Elena (Viktoriya Isakova), who must also fight a needlessly frustrating secondary battle with her superiors and the school system. It’s a doom-laden but good-looking film; criticism of organised religion and Vladimir Putin is forthright, though the director’s treatment of Russian educational institutions is markedly lighter, and occasionally even farcical. It’s also well-acted, but I think it runs out of steam, and it seems likely to me that the student’s public behaviour would be dealt with at a much earlier stage. (***)