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The Student (2016)

Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov

This film adaptation of a Marius von Mayenburg play explores the controversial role of the church and organised religion in contemporary Russia.

By all formal criteria, The Student is a teen drama. You will find a usual set of characters here: a rebel, a beauty queen, an outcast, a progressive teacher, an illiberal headmaster, and, of course, parents who have no clue what’s going on with their teenage children. In that respect, the school where the film is set could be anywhere in the world.

The Student was, in fact, filmed in the westernmost Russian city of Kaliningrad – an exclave that belonged to Germany before 1945. If it’s a reference to the country of literary origin, it is the only one – the story of a student who turns into a religious fanatic and tries to take over the school appears uncannily organic in the context of contemporary Russia. Director Kirill Serebrennikov is clearly critical of organised religion’s ever-greater role in discussions about LGBTQ+ and women’s rights in the country, but thanks to his artistic choices, the film does more than just make a political statement. The film’s grotesque, even surreal aesthetic, a lot of which comes from Serebrennikov’s experience in theatre, serves as a fitting background for the characters’ gradual descent into madness.

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