Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cine-City film festival: A Teacher

Published in The Badger newspaper.
This year’s Cine-City festival has brought some excellent new films to Brighton. “All is Lost”, “A Touch of Sin,” “Jeune & Jolie,” “Nebraska,” “Ilo Ilo” and “The Double” are all highly recommended. Low-budget, American indie “A Teacher”, directed by Hannah Fidell, on the other hand is not.
Diana (Lindsay Burdge) is a good-looking, young teacher in Texas. She is afraid of growing up and the responsibility that this entails, behaving like a teenager instead. In an awkward subplot, which is inexplicably abandoned after one scene, we learn that she is unable to face her mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. She also has an affair with one of her students, the well-built Eric (Will Brittain). This illicit relationship is at the centre of the film, and also its biggest problem. Diana lets herself be completely dominated by Eric, sexually as well emotionally. Whenever they are together, she transforms into a giggly, clingy 19-year-old, who cannot believe that she gets to be with the “hot boy,” and does whatever he tells her to do. This not only raises a number of questions about the film’s gender politics, which I won’t go into, but also makes it very difficult to like or even feel much sympathy for her. She is clearly at fault for her problems, and comes across as rather pathetic. Watching her make the same mistakes over and over is a frustrating experience, like watching a bad horror movie, in which the characters go into a dark cellar to check out a creepy noise.
The other characters are underdeveloped and two-dimensional. We learn hardly anything about Eric outside of his sexual relationship to Diana. Sophia (Jennifer Prediger), Diana’s roommate, only exists to give her someone else to talk to and hide the relationship from. On the whole, the plot is predictable and doesn’t really do anything interesting or new with the premise. The soundtrack is particularly bad and intrusive, trying to build tension where there is none.
That said; it’s not all bad. The central performance by Lindsay Burdge is actually very good and convincing. Hannah Fidell’s visual style, using a lot of handheld shots and frequent camera movements, is quite interesting and fits the material, giving it a sense of grittiness and realism. The film’s short running time (75 minutes) also does it a lot of favours: the narrative is tight, and there is little unnecessary or indulgent material, which makes it more or less watchable.


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