Monday, July 31, 2017

The Teacher

Set in Bratislava in the 1980s, The Teacher could be subtitled "portrait of a bully and a blackmailer" because the protagonist, Maria Drazdechova, is indubitably both, and the practiced ease with which she performs those two additional roles while working as a teacher is quite startling.

Her routine is this; at the beginning of the school year, Maria introduces herself to the class and gets the pupils to introduce themselves and state what their parents do for a living while she makes careful notes.  As the term progresses she asks the parents for favours when the favour is received she tells them what the children should be studying for the next class. Those children receive good marks in class and the children whose parents don't give favours don't, whether they've got to grips with what they're learning or not. She's the school Communist party representative, which gives her extra clout.

Things start to come unstuck when it becomes apparent that three of the ablest students have parents who are the least able to do useful favours for Maria. Their consistently poor marks at school prompt those parents to make a formal complaint about Maria and there's a meeting at the school for all the parents and the head teacher. Naturally, the parents of children who are doing well, don't want to rock the boat. The meeting is the dramatic centrepiece of the film, and to our surprise [ spoiler alert ] the complaint against the teacher is upheld. Sadly for Czechoslovakian school kids, the consequence for the teacher is like that of paedophile priests last century - she gets transferred rather than disciplined.

The acting in The Teacher is superb. Zuzana Maurery who plays Maria is completely convincing and her character never misses a beat. She appears completely without conscience and feigns ignorance of her manipulative and unkind behaviour. She devotes every evening to making phone calls to parents and continuing to feather her nest. The anxious parents are also very convincing.

The drawback with this film is that it's slightly too straight and slightly too dark. While Maria's lack of self-awareness and her indefatigability is somewhat humourous, the suffering she causes isn't. The Teacher lacks the warmth of Jan Hrebejk's other films, especially Divided We Fall.

Anne's rating 3/5 Ian's rating 3/5

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