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First Look Review - THE HISTORY STUDENT

A young boy explores his surroundings during a Polish summer.


Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Graham Jones

Starring: Aiden Jones, Kasia Wiṡniewska




"The History Student’s invocation of innocence seems entirely organic and believable, unlike, say, the mawkish use of children in certain mainstream fare. There is no such indulgence in The History Student, which instead manages a feat more moving; a realisation of childhood excitement."



Just like the lazy, luxurious time spans of childhood summer days; hours spent catching insects in jam jars, net fishing upon the shores of glistening lakes, or just simply hand feeding birds that rock up upon the windowsill; nothing much happens of significance in Graham Jones’ Polish language The History Student. There are sequences that link chronologically, but never causally; instead of a narrative drive, the effect is of a dreamy meander as we follow little Filomonek (Aiden Jones) through idyllic summer days, from his home that he shares with his mother in a busy town, to the halcyon lakeside farmstead where his grandparents live, with Filomonek endlessly fascinated by the simple feats of nature that he encounters along the way. It is quite lovely.
In terms of The History Student’s plot, that’s it. There are subtle suggestions about Filomonek’s father, conspicuous by his absence for most of the running time, and a sense that Filomonek’s mum (Kasia Wiṡniewska) is tired and edgy for some reason beyond the ken of our little hero, but the motivations and interior life of the adults that surround Filomonek remain purposefully unexplored. Jones places his focus alternatively on Filomonek’s childlike comprehension of the world. The camera angles remain low throughout, positioning the viewer from the same stunted perspective of its central character, only allowing us the briefest of hints concerning the adult realm which Filomonek also (unknowingly) inhabits. The History Student captures magic this way; a sense of wonder when Filomonek looks up in search of spacemen, and the camera angle opens from the busy mise-en-scene of woodlands or cluttered streets, to instead show the sky; vast, blue and invulnerable. Or engages us with an equally fascinating but simpler series of shots, featuring Filomonek interacting with various animals and creatures.
The vérité style of the film gives The History Student a real intimacy, allowing us to share in the excitement of Filomonek as he endeavours his Wordsworthian encounters with the natural world. The dichotomous wriggling of a worm split in two becomes something of a revelation, a brooding pigeon cause for innocent philosophy. And The History Student’s invocation of innocence seems entirely organic and believable, unlike, say, the mawkish use of children in certain mainstream fare, wherein the ‘coming-of-age’ theme is used wholly in order to sentimentally remind adults of what they’ve supposedly lost. There is no such indulgence in The History Student, which instead manages a feat more moving; a realisation of childhood excitement. And as the nights begin to draw in, I found this bonus hour or so of a summer holiday entirely welcome.
However, in keeping with The History Student’s loose, wandering approach, you may find that, like the summer holidays themselves, towards the end the film begins to feel a little repetitive and unfocussed, with the lack of narrative drive causing the film to amble towards a restrained dénouement, and increasing audience sympathy for Filomonek’s mother’s otherwise inexplicable exasperation with her child’s irrepressible curiosity. There are also some very weird moments involving broken wind, too, which I put down to a cultural paradigm beyond my appreciation (even though my roots are in part Polish). However, as Filomonek discovers, things are rarely perfect, and as he picks up bugs and attempts to communicate with pigeons, you too will find yourself pleasantly drifting along his journey with him, soaking in the tranquil pleasures of this charming little film.

You can watch The History Student for free below:




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