Film review: The Teacher – a tale of abuse of power in a school in communist Czechoslovakia
The corruption of the communist system is encapsulated in this story of a teacher who abuses her position in a Czechoslovakian school in the 1980s
Czech filmmaker Jan Hrebejk’s The Teacher is a slow-burning drama examining the abuse of power in 1980s communist Czechoslovakia. However, rather than tell the story through government officials or police officers, the film – as the title suggests – revolves around a teacher at a secondary school.
If you think the school setting should make the corrupt authoritarian figure less fearsome, Slovakian actress Zuzana Maurery will set you straight. Whether her Mrs Drazdechova is passive-aggressively asking a student to run errands for her as she’s in the process of evaluating her grade or hinting at consequences to another parent (Peter Bebjak) if he rejects her flirtation, Maurery gives the character a menacing edge without so much as a grimace or raising of her voice.
This subtle villainy is more disturbing than most CGI monsters in Hollywood franchise films. It’s no wonder, then, that Maurery picked up the best actress award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic.
Drazdechova’s various misdeeds are told via flashbacks, during a meeting of parents to decide whether they should file a formal complaint against her. Being a senior member of the local communist party, Drazdechova strikes fear into the parents as well as her students.
That Hrebejk and frequent writing partner Petr Jarchovsky – the duo made the 2000 film Divided We Fall, which was nominated for a best foreign-language Oscar – managed to craft a compelling drama out of a film that takes place almost entirely inside a classroom over a single night is a testament to their storytelling abilities. This is a witty little gem that may make the Oscar’s foreign-language shortlist again.
The Teacher opens on May 18
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