Nobody believes a word that poor Elena (Viktoriya Isakova) has to say. In Kirill Serebrennikov’s The Student, she’s a Cassandra-like figure, a high school teacher who senses something’s not right about one of her student’s newfound evangelism. Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov) lives at home with his single mother. At first, their battle of wills looks like the stuff of any dysfunctional family. But the director quickly moves Venya’s obsession with the Bible out of their apartment and into a public space.
The Student is his coming-of-age story that turns not on his sexual awakening, but toward a religious fanaticism. His first rebellious act sounds like that of any other adolescent: ditching swim practice. When Elena questions him about his absences, his excuse — “It’s against my religion” — baffles her. Cut to a poolside scene where girls in bikinis exit the locker room. He turns his head away from them, titillated and unnerved. Then, like someone possessed, he attracts their attention by shouting out lines of Scripture. The director has something more on his mind than mere sublimation, though. Scene after scene, we watch Venya’s strange charisma grow as his dogmatic fervor builds up to an infectious fever pitch. (M)uchenik, the Russian title of the film, is a play on words: Without the “m,” it means apprentice. With it, the student transforms into a martyr.
Opens Friday at the 4-Star Theatre.