In the superb drama The Teacher, it’s the mid-1980s and the Iron Curtain is still defining Czechoslovakia; (The Teacher is a Czech movie in the Slovak language). The title character’s position as a high school teacher makes her a gatekeeper to the children’s futures, and she’s unaccountable because she’s a minor Communist Party functionary. Wielding blatant academic favoritism and even overt blackmail, she uses the advantage of her political status for her own petty benefit – coercing shopping errands, car rides, pastries and other favors from the parents of her students. Finally, she causes so much harm to one student that some of the parents rebel and seek her ouster.
Will the other parents support them? What of the parents who benefit from the regime? And what of the majority of the parents who must decide whether to risk their own futures? The risk is real: the regime has already reassigned one parent, a scientist, to a menial job after his wife had defected.
The Teacher benefits from a brilliant, award-winning performance from Zuzana Mauréry in the title role. What makes this character especially loathsome is that she’s not just heavy-handed, but grossly manipulative. Mauréry is a master at delivering reasonable words with both sweet civility and the unmistakable menace of the unspoken “or else”.
The acting from the entire company is exceptional, especially from Csongor Kassai, Martin Havelka and the Slovak director Peter Bebjak as aggrieved parents. Writer Petr Jarchovský has created textured, authentic characters. Director Jan Hrebejk not only keeps the story alive but adds some clever filmmaking fluorishes as he moves the story between flashbacks and the present.
The Teacher is one of the highlights of Cinequest 2017.