A Teacher Reviews
Brief at 77 minutes long. Nicely acted.
It isn't a "story." The story is boilerplate stuff: a teacher and a student have an affair. No surprises, because the outcome is inevitable.
Rather, the film is a microscope on the emotional body language and psychology of obsession (technically, "limerence" is the word) of impossible desire. And Lindsay Burdge, if you keep your eyes on her, is well worth watching. She nails the way that anxiety and social pressure compress happy love into an obsession that destroys a person's happiness, mental health, and eventually, life.
The cinematography is deliberately claustrophobic, and the shots really long, because the film is aiming at the ambivalence of the central relationship: the love, the lust, the fear, the anxiety, even at times the loathing that one quick look doesn't quite grasp. This movie will bore you if you need something to happen; but it might be your thing if you want to know what it feels like when the small things that happen feel bigger than the whole world.
Stylistically it's hard to get behind modern naturalism in a high-school setting, it's just so dull seeing people behave this way. One of the best things in film and theatre is getting a break from the way people actually behave; films tend to show us how we'd like to see people behaving, or rather what's beneath behavior. It's a humorless movie while maintaining interest through suspense and hysteria. Another film dealing with pedophilia is Lolita, which hardly has a dry moment not imbued with dark humor.
Parallel image - Watts driving along in the opening, again near the end, although the background has changed. It's a character revealing moment vs the mundane backdrop of her life. The discomfort we feel when, following the first of these, a pledge of allegiance standard routine in class, Watts leading it. What are our teachers thinking at this point of the day? What are they thinking about us? Are any of them getting turned on? Curiosities are peaked. I think audiences are afraid of allowing the discomfort to unfold, but if they let go of their prejudices, they might find interesting thoughts occur while watching the picture.
But why should something like this happen? That always seems to be the question we have about these kinds of relationships, and I'm forced to counter with: why not? Beneath the stigma of society, it's two fairly young people attracted to each other engaging in what they enjoy, no judgment, no labels. People looking for a deep character study that diagnoses Watts will be disappointed, and I don't think we need to see that. Her life is pretty ordinary, which is exactly the problem. We see her having Thanksgiving with her family, a still life in front of the TV watching football, that's all. Nothing harsh, she wasn't beaten by daddy, nobody raped her [as far as we know] - life is boring and it needs a little sugar and spice. That's the essence of rule breaking.
Once she starts losing Eric, she starts losing herself and her grip on reality. One aspect of Watts' psyche can be diagnosed: she's manic. The most heart-pounding suspense is her daring attempt to talk to Eric at his home, hysterical that he won't talk to her on the phone. Draped in sweats, speeding in her station wagon, she awkwardly shows up, calls the house, has the nerve to speak to her father, then greater nerve to get out of the car and approach his house, where she lures him from the window. It's an uncomfortable moment, especially when Eric's father comes out. She gets away with a hood up just in time to go unnoticed. But we only think that, she's not getting away at this point. In her attempt to run away, showing up at a motel, she gets a call - the principal needs her to come in right away. Imagine this, being her, getting that call, what it all feels like. It's a film about getting caught, how your heart stops when it happens, the fear of facing society and yourself reflected against it.
Fidell establishes the tone of the film utilizing abrupt editing, intense musical score and off-kilter camera perspectives. We are given just enough information about the protagonist to know that she is on the verge of crisis. The film needs no dialog or "set-up" to understand how a mutually erotic flirtation swells into something far more menacing.
At the end of the day, this is an artistic portrait of a woman pushed to her emotional and psychological limits. She hides her pain, loneliness and isolation so well that it is barely detectable as she interacts with others. The exception being her lover who is far too immature to understand the area into which he stumbles. This film is not "provocation" or "salacious." Fidell avoids those traps. However, she is smart enough to create more than a little erotic tension.
Unpredictable, unflinching, dark and with a constant tone of threat -- "A Teacher" is a horrifying film. It should not be missed. I'm particularly disappointed with The New York Times and NPR for failing to grasp what this experimental film manages to achieve.
This is not a movie for all. I did not like it either.