DVD Review: The Country Teacher
Country: Czech Republic/Germany/France
Release Date: September 8, 2009
Distributor: Film Movement
· Bohdan Slama
· Pavel Luska
· Zuzana Bydzovska
· Ladislav Sedivy
· Tereza Voriskova
· Marek Daniel
· IMDb: The Country Teacher
by Robert Bell
Published: August 22, 2009
Featuring a self-hating homosexual protagonist running away from his problems, mixing up roles of caregiver and lover, "The Country Teacher" delves into prickly territory without being so glib as to pass judgment or offer solutions, rather exploring human loneliness and forgiveness without political agenda or self-conscious posturing.
In fact, sexual predilection is the least of the film’s concern, as a successful young teacher (Pavel Liska) leaves the security of a prep school job in Prague for a less esteemed position in the country. Knowing the move from urban to rural is typically a signifier of escape, the isolated Marie (Zuzana Bydzovska) finds intrigue in the new teacher, confused by his lack of reciprocal affection, but pleased with his positive influence in her misguided 17-year-old son’s (Ladislav Sedivy) life.
This initial bond, however, is put to the test when the teacher’s ex-boyfriend (Marek Daniel) comes to town, expressing an interest in Marie’s teenaged son, Lada.
It is perhaps these latter, adult, handlings of Marie’s Lada, along with the public use of recreational drugs and a latter, sketchy, sexual indiscretion that distinguish "The Country Teacher" culturally and ideologically from Western cinema. But a mature handling of universal anxieties, such as sagacity in external perspective and distrust as a learned behaviour for outsiders, unifies the film, giving it a power and profundity rarely demonstrated.
Too often narratives handle difference as a threat and dismissible comic idiosyncrasy without consideration. Not here though, as this one is a low-key winner that handles its virtues with subtlety and sincerity.
In fact, the only thing spelled out here is a generalized terror in mass assimilation, given how deadening and mundane life would be if that were the case. The rest of the film progresses with a natural, character driven, ease, as calves are birthed, hay is fed and beers are drank. We get the sense of a quieter life where simplicity trumps the human callousness and constant unrest of urban centers and cold, fiscal success.
Also included with the DVD is the touching short film Peter and Ben, directed by Pinny Grylls, wherein a man deliberately isolates himself from society, done with its callous hypocrisy, only to befriend a sheep that has willingly strayed from its herd, despite his attempts to push it away. It speaks multitudes within its 10-minute running time about the meaning of connection, no matter how simple, in a world that could really give less of a shit.