Monday, July 27, 2015

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER: Nadav Lapid's film makes good on promise of POLICEMAN

When Corinth Films released the Israeli film Policeman last year, it seemed as if an important new director -- Nadav Lapid -- might be knocking at our door. With the release this week by Kino Lorber of Lapid's newest work, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER, that knock now sounds like enormous pounding. This movie is about so many things -- art (what it is and where it comes from), teaching, how children learn, poetry, plagiarism, what's important in life and how to achieve it, even the state of Israel itself -- that if Lapid managed to handle a couple of these well, we'd be impressed. Instead, he does it all, in one of the supreme juggling acts of modern cinema. He's so good in fact, that you're seldom even aware of the balls being in the air.

The writer/director, pictured at right, gets so much correct in this, his third full-length feature, that I can only marvel at his accomplishment -- from the story idea to the themes explored right through to the final execution. The tale here is of the titular teacher and her five-year-old student, whom we view almost immediately in thrall to creativity, composing a poem that is clearly far beyond any normal five-year-old's abilities. How the teacher responds to this, and how her response triggers various responses in others, becomes the meat of the movie.

Along the way, we meet a most interesting array of characters, many of whom, have their own reactions to both the poetry and the child (some, it turns out, do not know that the former evolved from the latter). We come face to face with various kinds of plagiarism, with hypocrisy, and with cultural cretinism masked as sensible consumerism and the ability to make money. Or is it vice versa?

I am guessing that the filmmaker's sensibility cleaves toward art over commerce, but he allows the other side -- embodied by the child's uber-successful father -- its due.

Lapid also allow us to view the child in various ways: as a real poet (even if his poetry does appear to come from some strange and "other" place), as a relatively normal, playful kid, and as maybe a child touched with more than a trace of Aspergers -- if not an outright idiot savant. (The young performer chosen for the role, newcomer Avi Shnaidman, could hardly be better.)

And the teacher herself? Whew! As performed by the Israeli actress Sarit Larry, she is a mass of obsessive contradictions that make for one of the most complicated, strange, sad and memorable characters to grace a movie in a long while.

The obsessions of this teacher, Nira, move the plot onward in a convulsive but surprisingly believable manner. The movie raises a host of questions, almost none of which it can answer. Yet that undoubtedly is the point. We need to think, and think hard, about all of these things. What kind of art and culture and commerce -- in fact, what kind of country, do we want?

Without much of a push, you can take The Kindergarten Teacher as a kind of metaphor for the state of Israel, the birth of which appeared to offer such possibility, the result of which today seems a tight, nasty knot of contradictions. (Had it made here in the USA, the movie would fit America rather well, too.)

Whatever: This is quite a piece of movie-making, and it opens in New York City this Friday, July 31, at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Francesca Beale Theater.

Further openings are set for Cleveland, Miami and Santa Fe during August and September. To see all currently scheduled playdates and theaters, click here and then scroll down.

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