Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Kindergarten Teacher (orig. Haganenet) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing

MUBI (D. Kasman) review

The Kindergarten Teacher (orig. Haganenet) [2014] (written and directed by Nadav Lapid) may begin as an unassuming, diminutive ("indie style") Israeli film.  But don't let that fool you.  By the end, the film certainly "packs a punch."  (The film played recently at the 2014 (50th Annual) Chicago International Film Festival).

The film's about ... a kindergarten teacher, Nira (played by Sarit Larry), 40 something, married to a kindly, unassuming engineer (played by Lior Raz).  Together they have two grown children, a daughter who's living with her boyfriend in the States and a son who's currently serving in the Israeli Army.  While both husband and wife would seem to be fundamentally gentle people, there's a sense that both are going through an "empty nest" adjustment: the kids are basically grown, what now?

Well, besides her continuing work with little kids as said kindergarten teacher, Nira's joined a poetry writer's club, filled with people both her age (and younger...) who basically give each other mutual support in their writing efforts (but don't become too good, 'cause then one or another in the group will become jealous and try to bring you back down a peg or two ;-).  (Seriously, I enjoyed "writers' club" scenes in this film very, very much, reminding me very much of similar scenes in the much higher budget (and IMHO excellent) Hollywood film Wonder Boys [2000] which was also about "emerging" and otherwise "struggling writers.")

Now Nira has no particular ambitions of "making it" as a poet.  It's just something that has come to interest her, something that she explains to another had been lacking in her far more spartan upbringing (Israel of the 1950s-60s was something of a modern day Sparta...), and well, probably something that "got her out of the house" so that she wouldn't have to deal as much with her husband, who, now that the kids were largely gone, she'd have to probably talk to more than she'd want to, in this new and uncertain point in their lives ...

Okay, enter A FIVE YEAR OLD, Yoav Pollak (played by Avi Schnaidman) a child, whose behavior FROM A DETACHED DISTANCE could suggest that he was at least mildly Autistic (he'd kinda go into a trance every so often, beginning to walk back-and-forth or somewhat rapidly in a circle), and, AGAIN while ONLY FIVE, was becoming a child of divorce (his mother had left his workaholic restauranteur father for, again, "an American").  And Nira becomes fixated on him, FIVE YEAR OLD, Yoav.

True, when Yoav would go into the above described trance, he'd, quite amazingly, come to articulate what appeared to be _remarkably good_ "free form poetry" ... BUT ... HE'S FIVE YEARS OLD.  Honestly, it doesn't appear that he understands what he's doing (AND AT FIVE ... I'm sorry, from a distance, it seems so obvious ... HOW COULD HE?)

But poor Nira, who as introduced above, is also having some "empty nest" issues, becomes convinced that he's some sort of a Mozart-like genius and progressively becomes MORE AND MORE INVOLVED IN THIS POOR KID'S LIFE ... to the point that (without MUCH OF A SPOILER) it can't possibly end well.

In any case, the film becomes a fascinating, and actually quite gentle / compassion-seeking presentation of HOW A TEACHER (WHO OBVIOUSLY SHOULD KNOW BETTER) could get (YUCK...) "involved" with a minor in a way that's OBVIOUSLY INAPPROPRIATE / HARMFUL TO THE CHILD ... but, well, she was going through some "unresolved" (yet comprehensible, IF CAUGHT IN TIME) issues of her own.

In anycase, it all made for another quite brave and certainly thought / (perhaps) discussion provoking film.  Good job CIFF, Good job!

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