Film Movement DVD Review: The Country Teacher (2008)

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Just moments after finishing Czech writer/director Bohdan Slama's tenderly subtle and understated third work The Country Teacher, I realized I'd become inspired to track down his first feature length foray into filmmaking Wild Bees to see if there's a existentially humanistic undertone running throughout his cinematic offerings.

Following up his previous internationally lauded and award winning sophomore title, Something Like Happiness (also released by the prestigious DVD-of-the-Month film festival delivery service Film Movement), Slama's Teacher could very well have been dubbed "Something Like Love."

Similar to his earlier impressive work-- of which unfortunately I'm unable to recall much in the way of specifics (despite reviewing it in 2007)-- Slama crafts flawed yet recognizable three dimensional characters and ensures that their emotions and what isn't being said is just as important as the scripted dialogue. Likewise and again tying right in with the previous title, his characters try to seek out their own version of happiness in realistic, boundary breaking, universally relatable ways which you'll discover in The Country Teacher.

By dressing up a story about forgiveness and unrequited love as though it were a straightforward, traditional boy meets girl (or in this case, girl meets boy but boy likes boy) romantic paradigm, Slama's film is able to surprise viewers as it explores much richer terrain. Namely, The Country Teacher-- and by extension Slama-- addresses the abstract nature of love by depicting the ways that even misguided attempts and failures can evolve into yet another little dissected layer of love in terms of unexpected friendships among outsiders.

In doing so, he introduces us to our quiet and educated title character, credited solely by his profession and often referred to simply as “the teacher" as portrayed by his frequent star, Pavel Liska who arrives in the picturesque countryside after accepting a position educating the inhabitants of the area about natural science.

Young, handsome, and instantly intriguing as a new arrival, the teacher's attempts to keep a low profile are dismissed when he becomes the object of affection of the Stockholm International Film Festival award-winning Best Actress Zuzana Bydzovska's character Marie.

However, a misreading of body language and shared conversational ease results in a fumbled attempt at intimacy, after which Marie retreats on her farm equipment truly embarrassed and tries to cover for the heartbreaking gaffe by admitting that she knows she's no longer young. Yet despite this, audience members uncover much earlier than she does that the teacher's avoidance of her romantically is biological and not just a rude generic verification that he's just not that into her.

Having successful hidden the fact that he is gay by going as far as to discuss a previous heterosexual relationship that had teetered on the brink of marriage, the teacher's secret is brought to light along with another truth he's been painfully trying to ignore when an impulsive whirlwind of an ex-boyfriend arrives in town.

Jealous that the teacher is no longer interested in him romantically, the ex proves to have undeniably fool-proof love radar when he discovers that the teacher has been harboring a crush on Marie's handsome seventeen year old son.

Urged by Marie to tutor the boy, the teacher tries miserably to deny his feelings but the arrival of the ex serves as the film's one figurative domino that has knocked down the main trio's truest intentions and obsessions as blind love and lust inspire a hopeless action that threatens to change their dynamic forever.

Similar to Film Movement's recent gorgeous yet unfortunately dully named French character-based charmer (or “people mover” as I prefer) The Grocer's Son, Slama's exceedingly well-acted ensemble piece is augmented by breathtaking lensing and fortunately Teacher's stellar beauty garnered an award for its talented cinematographer Divis Marek.

Overall, Slama's film is a moving portrait of unrequited love, the struggle to be true to one's identity and power of forgiveness that gives off a distinct feeling that the characters could very well be real individuals in villages, towns, cities and countries around the globe. A beautiful and thematically similar follow-up to his previous exploration in Something Like Happiness, Slama's subtle work as mentioned earlier successfully follows humanity's endless yet necessary quest for something like love.

Nominated for nine awards in its native Czech Republic, this joint production from Germany and France as well also had the unique distinction of being chosen as an Official Selection at both the 2008 Venice and Toronto International Film Festival before Film Movement honored Slama by selecting his newest release for their catalog as one of the rare “two films by the same director” acknowledgment of his immense talent. And after sharing it with subscribers in its DVD-of-the-month club, The Country Teacher has finally been released to non-subscribers and foreign film enthusiasts this week which will hopefully call attention to the talent of Slama with its wider availability online and via select retailers and rental providers.

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