Movie Review: Teacher’s pet

A chilly and cerebral ‘Kindergarten Teacher.'

‘Kindergarten Teacher’ movie (photo credit: PR)
‘Kindergarten Teacher’ movie
(photo credit: PR)
The Kindergarten Teacher
Hebrew title: Haganenet
Written and directed by Nadav Lapid With Sarit Larry, Avi Shnaidman, Ester Rada, Yehezkal Lazarov
Running time: 119 minutes
In Hebrew.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Nadav Lapid’s second feature film, The Kindergarten Teacher, is an odd, original and somewhat chilly story about the joys of poetry and the innocence of children.
The film is about Nira (Sarit Larry), a preschool teacher in Tel Aviv who hears the strange verses that Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), one of the children in her class, recites and decides he is a genius. Nira feels that Yoav must be shielded from the world and encouraged to keep creating, no matter what his family thinks.
It’s a plot that is a metaphor for the precariousness of art in the modern world. How much you enjoy the film will depend on your tolerance for watching a cute five-year-old with a lisp reciting poetry while his teacher looks on, creepily entranced.
If you have had a child in preschool or can still remember back to your own preschool days, you know that a lot of very weird things happen in kindergartens. The teachers there have a huge amount of authority, no set curriculum and pupils that generally don’t have the verbal skills to tell their parents exactly what goes on from 8:00 to 16:00 every day.
Watching The Kindergarten Teacher reminded me of a teacher my son had who read the five-year-olds accounts of poisonous snakes and spiders killing people. The children became terrified, and it turned out the teacher was undergoing a serious medical problem. Nira in The Kindergarten Teacher has a more dramatic descent into irrational behavior and becomes so obsessed with Yoav and his poetry that it’s clear that this story isn’t going to end well for at least one of the characters.
Nira confides in Yoav’s babysitter, Miri (Ester Rada), an aspiring actress who reads Yoav’s poems at her auditions, pretending they are her own. It turns out that Yoav’s mother has left his father for a young lover.
Yoav’s father (Yehezkal Lazarov), a successful Tel Aviv bar owner, leaves him with Miri most of the time. Nira also passes Yoav’s poems off as her own in an adult education poetry class she takes. Later, without his father’s knowledge, she arranges for Yoav to recite his verses at a poetry reading.
Nira tries to interest her husband in Yoav’s work, but he is an ordinary guy, an engineer with no literary interests.
He is more interested in talking about a party for their son, who is about to finish his military service. In the context of the movie, Nira’s husband’s interest in their son is seen as a sign of his shallowness.
The world only comes alive for Nira when Yoav is reciting. The rest of her world is sterile and blank. She and her husband live in an apartment with no clutter, a place that looks like a model house showroom. This is appropriate because they are not well-developed enough characters to have acquired any possessions.
For most audiences, the movie will only come alive in the scenes when Rada, the gorgeous, well-known singer, is on screen. I would love to have seen more of her here and hope to see her in other movies in the future. All the actors are accomplished, but Rada was the only one I was happy to see whenever she entered a scene.
As the story progresses, the plot plays on our dread of just how unhinged Nira is and what she might do to Yoav. Hoping fervently that this child will not be harmed becomes less tolerable as the movie goes on.
Like Policeman, Lapid’s first feature, The Kindergarten Teacher is stylish, pretentious and cerebral, with characters so schematic that they only intermittently resemble actual human beings. The film has been embraced in France and by many critics here who are able to tolerate its pretension.