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The Teacher

A film by Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovsky

All ideologies breed corruption, and not all corruption is about money. That’s the simple and surprisingly entertaining message of The Teacher, the latest comedy of moral manners from Czech director Jan Hrebejk, and his first in the (slightly different) Slovak language. The veteran filmmaker has frequently delved into his now-split nation’s past, notably in the Oscar-nominated Holocaust tale Divided We Fall. And he has a shrewdly antinostalgic view of the Communist period. Working again with usual collaborator Petr Jarchovský on screenwriting duties, Hrebejk heads to 1983 Bratislava, to follow people with no notion that the oppressive Soviet period will soon be over. At a suburban high school, the students seem pretty well adjusted until the arrival of Mária Drazdechová, played slyly by award-winning Zuzana Mauréry. The new teacher seems nice enough, although it’s odd that she immediately asks how each of their parents is employed. Drazdechová is also the local party chief, but her ministrations are only implicitly political. Her real goal is nest-feathering: free cakes, haircuts, and appliance repair are more her speed. This looks relatively harmless, but her after-school work sessions are stealing kids away from sports and other extracurriculars. If they complain, grades suffer, and the more willing types get extra help with tests and such. Promising gymnast Danka (Tamara Fischer) is singled out for abuse, and Filip (Oliver Oswald) is punished when he defends her. The lad faces bigger problems when his brute of a dad (Martin Havelka) misreads the signals. And Danka’s parents (Zuzana Konecná and Divided We Fall lead Csongor Kassai) likewise think they merely have a sulky teen on their hands. Eventually, they notice the scam and start mobilizing. The filmmakers deploy an intricate flashback structure, with a PTA meeting—held about a year after Mária’s arrival—deciding the fate of the corrupt “educator”, who has effectively fractured parental unity. This is an apt metaphor for social positioning in a totalitarian state. But scripter Jarchovský, recalling an incident from his own school days, is careful to make all the participants more than symbols. Family apartments are individuated with wildly different wallpaper—except for the blank walls of mild-mannered single dad Václav Littmann (Peter Bebjak), a lanky physics professor in disgrace since his wife fled to the West. Our teacher has her eye on him for extra-special favours; good thing his tiny son (Richard Labuda)—a natural artist and born troublemaker—proves to be the hero of the story. Beautifully observed, paced, and resolved with a nifty twist, The Teacher is one of the most enjoyably instructive movies of the year. Courtesy: Ken Eisner, The Georgia Straight


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Directed by: 
Jan Hrebejk
Running Time: 
105 minutes
Slovakia and Czech Republic
Slovak with English Subtitles
Zuzana Maurery, Zuzana Konecná, Csongor Kassai, Tamara Fischer, Martin Havelka, Éva Bandor
Official site: 

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