Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hannah Fidell's A TEACHER tracks the affair between a high school teacher and her student. Sexy? Shocking? Moving? Boring.

In the race for the most unnecessary movie of the year -- I know: at this point we're only two-third's of the way through -- it will be hard to top A TEACHER. This utterly pointless exercise in taking a taboo, fraught and terribly important situation and then doing absolutely nothing with it is, well, shocking in a whole new way. The writer and director of this 77-minute film, Hannah Fidell (below), clearly wants to do and say something -- create a character study, according to the press notes -- but at this point in her maturation and career, she doesn't seem to have a clue that doing a character study means that you have to first create a character.

Instead, Ms Fidell simply throws us into the middle of it all -- the affair has already started, so we get no sense of  how it began or why the teacher would risk this (the student of course is horny, as guys that age are, and there's really little risk involved to him) -- then gives us some sex, an argument, a scene or two in class and then a sublimely dumb confrontation. "Characterization" demands specifics, details. Here we get practically none. Who is this woman? No clue. In class, all we see is her telling the kids to take a test. The sex is hot but ordinary (as much as I enjoy them, most sex scenes are not noted for deepening character). The teacher's life away from school? She jogs. And jogs again. And jogs some more. Come on, young filmmakers -- if you are going to take even 77 minutes of our time, you can do better!

This lack of character places enormous burden on the two actors who play the leads, especially on Lindsey Burge (above) in the title role, who is left with little to do but give us emotions. And since these are not much pegged to specific character, they come out relatively generic. 

The same is true of her co-star, Will Brittain (above, right), who looks a little old for the role, but we expect that, particularly in movies about high-schoolers having forbidden sex. We know the kid comes from a wealthy family, so there's some sense of entitlement. And that's about it. Otherwise, he's just a horny guy getting his rocks off with a good-looking teacher. What red-blooded American boy would say no to that? But it might have been nice to be able to see how he had been seduced. Or maybe he was the seducer? Who knows? So who cares? 

Stylistically, Ms Fidell does some of that popular-amongst-newcomers, show-us-the-back-of-the-head routine, another fab way to express character. She shoots in wide-screen, though I believe an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 would have been just as appropriate, considering what we're shown. Or not shown.

From Oscilloscope, a distributor whose output does not usually include movies of this little value, A Teacher (even the title is generic) opens Friday, September 6, in New York (AMC Loews Village VII) and L.A. (Laemmle's Royal), and then spreads across another dozen U.S. cities (plus Montreal) as the month unfolds. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates.

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