Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Country Teacher

Went to see the Czech film "The Country Teacher," tonight. I can remember my early years teaching and the fearfulness of being gay and found out. This film is a sort of Lolita in reverse. Instead of a corrupt female child, we get an innocent 17 year old boy. Instead of a guilt ridden Humbert Humbert, ready to do anything to get his prize, we have a teacher who is filled with ideals and hesitation, consumed as much -- or more-- by love than lust. Rather than give the story away, I'll just say it is thought provoking. Perhaps its message is that love transcends lust. It won a film award in Iceland, and I think it has a bit of the Icelandic spirit. Here's the more conventional New York Times review:

Movie Review

The Country Teacher (2008)NYT Critics' Pick This movie has been designated a Critic's Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.

Ladislav Sedivy, left, and Pavel Liska in a scene from “The Country Teacher,” written and directed by Bohdan Slama.

March 27, 2009

Life Lessons Learned in Bucolic Classrooms


Published: March 27, 2009

Petr (Pavel Liska), the title character of “The Country Teacher,” is a pensive, bespectacled Czech in his 30s who impulsively leaves Prague to take a job teaching natural science in a rural village. Both his subject and the rustic environment play into the movie’s contemplation of biological diversity as it applies to human behavior, especially sexuality.
If the theme weren’t so delicately handled, the film’s ideas about morality and desire might come across as a didactic lecture on tolerance and forgiveness. But Mr. Liska’s deep, quiet performance in the movie, which was written and directed by Bohdan Slama (“Something Like Happiness,” “Wild Bees”), and the film’s portrayal of farm life as a rugged pastorale lends “The Country Teacher” a foundation of visceral truth.
Quite early on, it is revealed that Petr is gay, but out of fear of persecution in his new job, innate reticence and shame he keeps this information to himself. Prague’s world of parties and casual hookups was not to his liking. When a former boyfriend (Marek Daniel), with whom he was never in love, shows up and pesters him to have sex, Petr demurs. It is easy to see why he lost interest in this loud, hard-drinking party animal and mischief maker. At the same time, it is equally clear why Petr might have initially been drawn to him: opposites attract.
Unfailingly polite and helpful, Petr retreats into classical music, remaining aloof from the local farmers who have the rowdy solidarity of people who live close to the earth and depend on one another’s labor. The film’s most remarkable scene observes the birth of a calf, which requires three people straining at the ropes attached to its feet to extract it from its mother.

Petr is temporarily housed near the school at the farm of Marie (Zuzana Bydzovska), a lean, weatherbeaten woman with a bitter marital history who is bringing up an unruly teenage son, Lada (Ladislav Sedivy). When Marie casually signals her availability to Petr, he gently fends off her advances. She assumes that it is because she is too old for him, and he doesn’t correct her.

Meanwhile, he harbors a secret crush on Marie’s wiry 17-year-old son, who lolls in the hay with his girlfriend in a state of perpetual heat. As Petr’s desire intensifies, he expresses his adoration by tutoring the boy, who responds to his attention and demonstrates a newfound interest in his studies.

The sad, serious joke of “The Country Teacher” is that the tender love and care Petr lavishes can’t begin to kindle desire in a young, straight teenager who is entirely unaware of Petr’s true feelings. Eventually, against his better judgment, Petr makes his move. His nature has its way. The flesh is weak, and lust is lust, no matter how many lofty, well-meaning gestures are thrown in as camouflage.

“The Country Teacher” suggests a gay-straight variation on Somerset Maugham’s “Rain,” with the melodrama tempered, the story given a soft landing.


Written and directed by Bohdan Slama; director of photography, Divis Marek; edited by Jan Danhel; music by Vladimir Godar; production designers, Vaclav Novak and Petr Pistik; produced by Pavel Strnad, Petr Oukropec, Karl Baumgartner and Thanassis Karathanos; released by Film Movement. In Czech, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Pavel Liska (Teacher), Zuzana Bydzovska (Marie), Ladislav Sedivy (Boy), Marek Daniel (Boyfriend), Tereza Voriskova (Popsie) and Milos Cernousek (School Principal).

No comments:

Post a Comment