52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #8: “The Teacher” (Czech Republic)

“The Teacher” (Czech Republic)
Directed by Jan Hrebek

mv5bytjly2rlytutmgmwys00mmnhlwfkzwmtmjcxndhjyme0mwuyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjixmzmymq-_v1_sx1777_cr001777999_al_Central and Eastern European films hold a soft spot in my heart. Their history, and its massive changes over the last three decades…and only three generations from a war that destroyed most of its history, are wildly interesting to me and almost every film that comes from the minds of its citizens is rife with attempts to illuminate, understand, or judge what has happened in the past. That may sound like a serious proposition, but what really intrigues me are the comedies that come from these historical shadows. “The Teacher”, a Czech film from Jan Hrebek, is a very successful example of this.

Taking place right before, and right after, the Velvet Revolution, it is a morality tale about the subtle abuses of power in the Soviet party system. And in the hands of a school teacher, these abuses become not so subtle. Given that setup, it would be understandable to think the film is either going to be tense drama, or a farcical satire. It is neither. It is disarming and charming, occasionally funny – and chilling. The script plays well, even if it repeats itself more than it needs to in Act 2. The director chooses to toss out a strict chronological narrative, and, as a result, “The Teacher” clips along at a successful pace.

The performances are good all around, especially the children. The eponymous role is played by Zuzana Maurery, and, while convincing, she plays the entire film with one intention…and we don’t get to see a fully dimensional woman in her performance. A few of the parents are terrific, but none more so than the outcast Peter Bebjak. His face best conveys the sorrow, disgust, frustration, irony and fear of his world…doing so with very few words.

I found the score to be as equally repetitive as some of the action. That said, it’s fairly enjoyable and fits the action quite well.

“The Teacher” will not set the world on fire, nor change it much. It is, however, well-crafted and illuminating…especially for a Western audience.

Written on 10/19/2016

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