Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:02 am 
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Bible thumper

Veniamin Yuzhin (Pyotr Skvortsov) is a pouty-faced pretty boy dressed in black, a trial to his working single mom (Yuliya Aug) and a provocateur in his high school armed with a well-thumbed Bible from which he quotes lines to advocate retro, repressive views. The film chronicles a series of his acts that amuse and disturb the school, lead to dire consequences for a "crippled" fellow classmate, Grigoriy (Aleksandr Gorchilin,) and drive his science teacher Elena Krasnova (Viktoriya Isakova) to distraction. As Yuzhin, Skvortsov makes one think of the young Leo DiCaprio, but without the same power to move. That's not entirely his fault because this re-adaptation of a German play Serebrennikov previously adapted to the stage reads chiefly as a series of sardonic stunts. It's great theater, but chilly filmmaking. The acting is lively, the sets, with the odd seaside ringed with what appear giant cement phalluses, and the luminous lighting, engage the senses. There are interpolations not in the play, notably the "cripple" Grigoriy condescendingly, abusively taken on by Yuzhin, a cloying, sentimental, pathetic character who shows off the multi-hyphenate director's manipulative hand. One gathers this is a comment on Russia's current decline and the invasion of backward institutions - but for that and more, the range and seriousness of Zvyagintsev's Leviathan remains unmatched.

The Student/(M)uchenik (original title=martyr+student), 118 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2016 in Un Certain Regard; at least 16 other festivals including the San Francisco International Film Festival, as part of which it was screened for this preview. Coming to theaters April 14.
Three SFIFF San Francisco showtimes and venues:
3:30 Apr. 6 Roxie; 5:30 Apr. 16 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening room; 9 p.m. Apr. 18 Victoria Theater (2961 16th St).

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