Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Movie Review: The Kindergarten Teacher

The Kindergarten Teacher
Directed by: Nadav Lapid.   
Written by: Nadav Lapid.   
Starring: Sarit Larry (Nira), Avi Shnaidman (Yoav Pollak), Lior Raz (Nira's husband), Jil Ben David (The Poetry Teacher), Ester Rada (Miri), Guy Oren (Asi), Yehezkel Lazarov (Amnon Pollak), Dan Toren (Aharon Pollak). 

The Kindergarten Teacher is an odd, haunting movie – part thriller, part drama, part allegory, and all ambiguous, that leaves the viewer scratching their head, but also oddly satisfied. It’s not an easy movie – because writer/director Nadav Lapid doesn’t really give away his hand at any point. He takes everything in the film at face value, even if it’s very strange, and cannot all possibly be “true” – can it? This is the type of film that will drive those who feel the need to “solve” art crazy. But for those looking for something more ambiguous, The Kindergarten Teacher is a treat.

The film stars Sarit Larry as Nira – the kindergarten teacher of the title – working is Israel with a group of seemingly normal little 5 year old mop heads. She is married to a government engineer – who seems nice enough, and they seem to like each other, although passion is not something they still share. They have two kids – a son in the army, and a daughter in high school, on her way to college soon, and too busy to spend much time with her mother. It’s a rather mundane looking life – but certainly not an unhappy one.

Then Nira sees one of her pupils – Yoav (Avi Shnaidman) do something odd after school one day. He announces “I have a poem” to his nanny, and marches back and forth while reciting a poem about love and loss. When Nira asks the Nanny about this, she tells her that it happens a few times a week – Yoav is apparently big on unrequited love when he writes his poetry. Other than that though, he seems like a perfect normal kid. So, what the hell is up this kid? Is it something supernatural or divine? Does he understand anything that he’s saying? Nira becomes obsessed – and starts digging into his past – the mother who left with her lover to the states a few years ago, the uncle, also a poet, who works at a dying newspaper, the father, who runs high end restaurants, and doesn’t care about his son’s poetry. He and Nira disagree on just about everything except for the fact that Yoav is a poet in a world that hates poetry. The difference is that Nira sees this as something to be nurtured, while the father would rather it be stomped out. He has no patience for losers and whiners – and wants his son to grow up to live in the “real world”.

For Nira, this cannot stand. Before she even knew of Yoav’s gift, she was already attending poetry classes herself – the type of thing bored, middle aged people do in their spare time once their kids don’t need them anymore. She starts reading some of Yoav’s poetry to the class to gage their reaction – and it gets a better one than hers ever did. She starts coming out with more elaborate plans – leading to the thriller element in the last act, as we know that eventually, she will clash too much with Yoav’s father, which indeed she does.

Is Yoav really that good of a poet? I have no idea – I confess, I don’t know much about poetry, and certainly not enough to critique poetry that was written in Hebrew, than translated for the purposes of the movie. This, I think, is part of Lapid’s design – if Yoav was another kind of prodigy (piano or chess perhaps, since the movies love those kind of child prodigies), it would be easier to tell if Yoav really was a genius, or if Nira were simply delusional (or, perhaps, both). But Lapid doesn’t spell that out for the audience – nor much of anything else. What are we to make of a strange scene in a bar for instance, that devolves into a hilariously over the top dance number. The movie feels like an allegory – but of what? The modern world, religious fundamentalism, materialism? All of the above? None of the above. Lapid keeps things thrillingly open ended, right to the end of the film.

What is clear is that Nira is correct – the modern world hates poetry – and instead loves things that are crasser than that. Does that make what Nira does right? Of course not, but it’s saying something that in the context of the film – while you’re watching it – you almost do want her to do precisely what she does, even though you know its idiotic. Perhaps she knows as well – and does it anyway.

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