The Country Teacher (Film Movement, NR)

film_country-teacher_sm.jpgThe Country Teacher tells a simple story so quietly and convincingly that it takes on dimensions far beyond what a simple plot summary can indicate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Country Teacher tells a simple story so quietly and convincingly that it takes on dimensions far beyond what a simple plot summary can indicate. It’s only the third feature film from director Bohdan Sláma but displays a mature feel for characterization and a willingness to allow the story to unfold at a natural pace.

Petr (Pavel Liška) leaves Prague to teach at a rural school. The village is such a backwater that the principal (Miloš Ĉernoušek) concludes that Petr must be on the run from something but doesn’t pursue the matter further; he’s just glad to have a qualified science instructor for the school.

Despite being something of a fish out of water among the rustic villagers, Petr attracts the attention of local single mother Marie (Zuzana Bydžovská). When he spurns her advances she concludes that her age is the issue. But then she asks him to tutor her teenage son Lada (Ladislav Šedivý), who is more interested in rolls in the hay with his girlfriend than in hitting the books. Marie, like everyone else in the village, is unaware that Petr is gay and left the city to get away from his ex-boyfriend (Marek Daniel), who demonstrates what a jerk he is by turning up just long enough to make a pass at Petr and then steal Lada’s girlfriend.

The lessons pay off and Lada passes his exams. What no one in the village understands is that Petr is motivated in part by sexual attraction, a desire he cannot suppress forever. How Marie deals with the reality of this situation is the heart of the film. Although nothing in her impoverished rural existence has prepared her for this course of events, she’s simply too human to react in a stereotypical manner.

The Czech countryside has never looked better than in Diviš Marek’s cinematography, reinforcing the film’s message that humans forget at their peril that they are also part of nature in all its splendid variety. If the film were not so consistently charming the symbolism could seem heavy-handed, like a modern-day Midsummer Night’s Dream where people flee the corrupt city to be healed in the enchanted countryside where the sun is always shining and everyone lives in harmony with nature.

But style wins the day. The presentation of The Country Teacher is perfectly in sync with its story, which Sláma allows to unfold in long takes with minimal camera movement. The actors are interesting rather than glamorous, their acting style consistently low-key, and their triumphs and failures realized on a human rather than grandiose scale. Sláma presses his luck a couple of times (the most extreme may be dramatizing the reconciliations of the three principals by having them assist in the successful birth of a calf), but all in all The Country Teacher is an enchanting little film which hides profundity behind a simple exterior. | Sarah Boslaugh

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