Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Country Teacher (Venkovsky Ucitel)

This week I went to the Lumiere & caught this slow, dysthemic movie from the Czech Republic. In the movie's opening scene, the title character shows up to teach grade school science in a rural village. Bespectacled, in his early 30s, outwardly thoughtful & inwardly troubled, he's clearly out of place, & we suspect he is secluding himself from something. He is drawn into a relationship with a hard-working, weather-beaten cow farmer & her teenage son, whom he gradually begins to mentor. Pavel Liska is excellent in the title role. His performance is a slow build-up to a key scene of sexual transgression. Watching it, I felt pity that someone I liked was doing something I disapproved of, yet at the same time I felt that I understood.

The focus is on the unverbalized emotions of the characters, & the general themes of loneliness & forgiveness are clear enough. Major revelations, such as the abrupt appearance of the teacher's detestable ex-boyfriend, seem to pop up out of nowhere, which makes me feel that the director is not in total control of his material. The movie is beautifully photographed in wide-screen format & uses a formal device of having each scene be one continuous take.

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