Sunday, November 17, 2013

Russian Ed Film Review

GEOGRAF GLOBUS PROPIL  (The Geography teacher loses all he most cherishes through drink)
By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - This is hardly an easy film to watch. On the contrary, it is often disquieting, disturbing and unsettling.Yet it is a great film because it is not only beautifully shot, but bravely explores issues of life, love and
death in a compelling,moving and poignant way. Most films neglect this.

The film was directed by Alexander Veledinsky and takes place in a small provincial town where the main hero, Victor Sluzhkin, (Konstantin Khabensky) decides to take up the post of a geography teacher. The town of the Urals where the teacher lives is an extremely devastated and de-industrialized ghost town where it is practically impossible for anyone to obtain a decent paid job. Without any clear purpose or vision,the locals have drifted into heavily drinking away their sorrows.

Although the hero Victor is a struggling alcoholic, he is still determined to do his best as a teacher. However, the job turns out to be far worse than he bargained for. There are practically no students in the tenth form (16-17 year old ) who are enthusiastic about geography. Like most teachers, he can only punish the badly behaved students by giving them a 'two'. The school students are constantly insulting, jeering at him and cursing him.

However, Victor is an unconventional teacher who teaches in an original and down to earth way. Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time before the school authorities will discover his heavy drinking habits and novel way of teaching.

Victor has a hard time of it! He is betrayed by his wife, betrayed by his best friend and worst of all,betrayed by his school students who have been secretly photographing him working in 'unprofessional ways' (gambling or drinking with students).

When Victor discovers his wife is having an affair, he plunges into the deepest despair and attempts to haplessly kill himself.

Victor decides to take his students on a dangerous boat trip through the rapids in order to teach his students the main questions of life and death. In a sense, Victor's class-room is out in tough wilderness. When one girl asks Victor 'Are you afraid of death?' he answers, 'Yes, I'm afraid of death. Only the young are not afraid of death because they are naive. That is why governments use the young as cannon-fodder in their wars.'

We would misread the film if we saw it as pessimistic. The main thing is that characters don't lose their capacity to love, care and fall in love with others. In one touching scene a 'love letter' which has been discarded into a river refuses to sink.

The film's realism is reflected by the fact that many school students are prepared to inform on their teachers by complaining to their principal. The teacher has very few rights to defend himself. I have worked in Russian schools and have experienced this situation. In fact, the headmistress of the school can't comprehend Victor and calls him a clown.

The film has won many prizes and is based on a novel by Aleksei Ivanov. The writer Valeria Todorovsky who helped write the script, stated, 'Sluzhkin is not ideal and he is no saint, more a sinner. He often gets drunk, drinks with his students, falls in love with a school girl, but Victor Sergeevich has a positive character. He doesn't lie, doesn't betray his friends and loves the world. He habitually breaks the social rules and brings up children like other normal people. However, he takes his students on to the threshold of death... I could only dream about having such a teacher at school. My child also! I think that it is such people who hold the country together!'

Not everyone grasped this film. According to Yelena Kupriyanova, 'I noticed how different parts of the audience reacted to the film. When I went only ten people came. While all the young people just laughed at the film, the middle-aged left the film with grim faces. I don't think the young people here understand the problems being experienced by people in provincial towns. They don't understand that in whole towns people who have lost any purpose in life feel there is nothing more to do than to drink. It is very tragic.'

Nevertheless, the geography teacher tries to alter things around him. One feels if he just received a little more support he could profoundly change the town! Instead, Victor often feels an intense loneliness and alienation from those around him. He ends up being an outsider who is not at home on this earth. However, he is still a rebel with a cause who at least harbors a great vision of a poetic and practical education.

And refuses to submit to the abysmal poverty around him.

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