Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Kindergarten Teacher – grooming a prodigy for poetic success (QFT)

When a primary school teacher recognised a gift for poetry in a young child, she goes far beyond the call of professional duty to nurture and develop his talent and document his output.

What makes The Kindergarten Teacher a great film is the uneasy sense that director Sara Colangelo allows to develop that you as an audience member are judging Mrs Spinelli too harshly. Throughout much of the 97-minute film, I sat questioning whether her behaviour was actually as creepy as I imagined it was.

That sense of wondering is the result of a deft touch in the script, the acting and editing to keep us guessing up until the end. And the answer is obvious: we’re only kidding ourselves that it’s not.

A remake of a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, The Kindergarten Teacher is a pitch-perfect and unsettling character study. Asher Goldschmidt’s pizzicato musical score wonderfully underlines scenes of neuroticism and moral tumult.

Maggie Gyllenhaal portrays this imaginative and engaging teacher whose classroom is more vibrant than her stagnant life at home, and whose own creative and educational talents seem to be dwarfed by her own lazy kids as well as her young charges at school. The sense of mid-life crisis is present but not too exaggerated.

Gyllenhaal owns the lead role, reeling in her audience with a warm performance that gently crosses the moral line step by step. There’s an intimacy to her coaching sessions in the school toilets that is totally absent from the bedroom at home. She combines being wanton and proper into a complex, ambiguous and very watchable character.

Gyllenhaal’s on-screen sidekick is Parker Sevak who plays young Jimmy. His character’s trademark absent-minded pacing while verbalising short abstract poems is beautifully repeated throughout the film. He’s quite a performer and hopefully this is only the start of Sevak’s acting career.

The Kindergarten Teacher is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre.

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