Bohdan Sláma’s direction for The Country Teacher, a film characterized by beautifully long, languorous takes, has an assured expressiveness that’s at odds with the story’s bumpy narrative. Petr (Pavel Liska) arrives in a bucolic country town to teach natural sciences at the local elementary school, where he first informs his kids that “if we can’t understand nature, we can’t understand ourselves,” and later that “diversity is sometimes a trap and sometimes a gift. It depends on what you do with it.” Those messages resound clangingly with regard to Peter, who, it turns out, has left Prague in a vain attempt to flee his homosexuality and persistent ex-boyfriend. Petr soon befriends local cow herder Marie (Zuzana Bydzovská), a widower who comes to pine for Petr, and her son Lada (Ladislav Sedivy), an unruly teenager with a girlfriend whom Petr secretly covets. All of them suffering from abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, mistrust, and fear, the three form an uneasy relationship that’s destabilized once Petr’s ex unexpectedly pays him a visit, becomes jealous of his feelings for Lada, and seduces Lada’s girlfriend. This sets in motion a series of events that culminate in Petr’s imprudent decision to act on his feelings for Lada, though more than these spotty developments—which appear out of nowhere and aren’t consistently or sufficiently dramatized—it’s Sláma’s patient, inquiring cinematography that proves most stirring, expressing in drawn-out pans and lingering establishing shots the literal and figurative distances between his characters. Capturing both the tranquility of his rustic setting and the pain, misery, and cowardice of his bottled-up protagonists, the director’s evocative helming goes a long way toward imbuing the proceedings with undercurrents of longing and desperation. And the performances of Liska and Bydzovská, often silent but full of unexpressed, tumultuous emotions, help bolster the story even when it tips into obviousness, or in the case of two separate cow-birthing sequences, somewhat ungainly symbolism. Country Teacher‘s portrait of Petr’s slow self-acceptance, however, nonetheless devolves into a muddle, especially during a home stretch that addresses issues of shame, acceptance, and forgiveness via contrived and/or feeble pronouncements and reconciliations that exhibit little of the lucid composure of its imagery.
- Film Movement
- 115 min
- Bohdan Sláma
- Bohdan Sláma
- Pavel Liska, Zuzana Bydzovská, Ladislav Sedivy, Marek Daniel, Tereza Vorísková
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