Film Movement // 2008 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // October 1st, 2009
"Have you forgotten what he did to me?"
Ah, European cinema! Is it not superior to Hollywood fare in almost everyway? Rather than mindless action and special effects, Europe offers brooding, meditative, and insightful portraits into the human condition...or so the enlightened cineastes tell us.
Peter, a somewhat withdrawn teacher (Pavel Liska, Lunacy) from Prague, arrives in a small Czech farming town to teach the natural sciences at a primary school. While wandering the area the teacher befriends Marie (Zuzana Bydzovská, The Can)and her teenage son, Lada (Ladislav Sedivý). The woman fancies the younger teacher. However, he does not return her affection for reasons he initially refuses to reveal. Marie thinks that it's because she's older than him, but that's not it all.
The Country Teacher is a Czech film directed and written by Bohdan Sláma (The Wild Bees). Beautifully shot and seemingly contemplative, it's a film loaded with themes, symbolism, and strong performances. Unfortunately, the story is implausible, not fully developed, and does not resonate, undermining the whole endeavour.
It is revealed early in The Country Teacher that Peter is a homosexual. The story is built around the slow disclosure of this fact to Marie, her son, and the town itself. Further, the film is about Peter learning to be comfortable with himself, instead of ashamed and repressed. Thrown in for good measure is the theme of forgiveness, some heavy symbolism involving the digging of a well, and not one, but two separate scenes involving the birth of calves.
When Peter's secret finally gets out, it occurs suddenly and the resulting conflict is resolved far too quickly and neatly, coming off as completely unrealistic. Peter is infatuated with Lada, who is most definitely not homosexual. Despite this knowledge, Peter (without any obvious impetus) decides to act on his feelings towards Lada while the young man is asleep. A crisis ensues, but Marie inexplicably forgives Peter's actions, and Lada eventually follows suit. It's a resolution that makes little sense, given the conservative rural setting and Peter's actions on Lada.
Contrary to the narrative, the acting is top-notch. Liska is especially impressive due to his expressive face that conveys the inner repressive and torment of Peter. Indeed, Sláma does an excellent job of capturing the faces of all the actors to communicate feelings. Bydzovská also shines as Marie, portraying her as both tough and caring. The rest of the cast, including Sedivý and Marek Daniel as Peter's ex-boyfriend, are also strong.
The transfer is solid. There are some infrequent minor imperfections, but the picture is clean for the most part. The color and detail of the Czech countryside, forests, fields, and lakes are excellent. The Dolby stereo mix is fine, as all dialogue and sounds come across without problem.
This release is light in the extras department and none are memorable. There are text biographies for Liska, Bydzovská, and Sláma, plus the theatrical trailer. In addition, there is a short, quirky documentary,Peter And Ben, about a hermit (Peter) living somewhere in the moors of Britain and a sheep (Ben) he befriends.
The Country Teacher is a well acted and technically sound piece, but the story is an immense letdown. For a similarly themed film that succeeds, you should pick-up the classic Death In Venice.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Czech)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film