SLIFF 2015 Review: THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
Now this makes for an interesting double feature. Recently I looked at the SLIFF feature entry from France, ONCE IN A LIFETIME, a high school drama. Now, here’s another education-inspired film. But it’s much younger, as you can assume from the title THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER. And it’s a whole lot…stranger. That’s the word for this character study from Israel. A great deal of scrutiny is place on the preschool levels, since those young minds are still developing along with their social skills. This tale is about a woman in charge of guiding these little ones as she realizes that one of her charges is quite uniquely gifted.
Nira (Sarit Larry) is the title character, devoted wife and mother (her son’s now in the Army), and teacher to a dozen or so kiddos. But one has a unusual talent. Little Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), without warning, will start to pace back and forth, prompting him to go into some sort of trance. He then recites incredibly sophisticated original poetry. Nira is stunned, while Yoav’s nanny thinks nothing of it, calling the boy an “oddball”. His teacher becomes obsessed, hurriedly jotting down this impromptu verse. In the evenings, she passes off Yoav’s gifts as her own at a night school poetry class, earning raves from the other students and her handsome instructor. But soon Nira becomes possessive of the lad, especially when she learns that the nanny has been using the poems for her acting auditions. After getting the nanny fired, Nira pleads with Yoav’s single dad, a rich restaurant owner, to enlist her son into special classes, or to hire a tutor to develop his remarkable talents. Father will have none of this nonsense, his son will not make his living as a poet. When Nira becomes adamant he takes Yoav out of Nira’s school and sends him to an exclusive, gated daycare center. This sets Nira on a dangerous course of action with far-reaching consequences.
Writer/director Nadav Lapid has crafted a riveting tale of obsession, often recalling the themes of AMADEUS, and even FATAL ATTRACTION. He guides wonderful performances from Shnaidman whose Yoav seems as confused about his gift as he is about the attention from his teacher. But Larry is the film’s complex, conflicted heart. Nira has no qualms about claiming Yoav’s verse, but the idea of the nanny reciting his words at auditions sends her into a rage. She’s full of contradictions, enjoying a passionate relationship with her hubby, but plunging headlong into an affair with little remorse. Yes, there are lots of sweet children at the school, but this film is quite adult in its language and sexual situations. You’ve never net a boy like Yoav or a woman like Nira, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER.
THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER screens at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinemas on Friday, November 13 at 4:15 PM and Sunday, November 15 at 4:30 PM as part of the 24th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival. Purchase tickets here and here