From the truncated shots of the actors in the opening scenes, we know we are in the hands of a director who believes that pretentious cinematography is a signifier of deep thought. We have been alerted that Israel, the mise en scene of this movie, is a fractured society comprised of many polarities: military culture vs poetry; Ashkenazi vs Sephardi (the Israeli version of racism); marriage vs divorce; innocence vs perversion - all of which will be played out during the course of the film.
The plot concerns a teacher who becomes enthralled and obsessed with a five year old prodigy in her class. As an aspiring poet, Nira is astounded at the precocity of the child and his intuitive grasp of emotional epiphanies he is far too young to have experienced. He becomes the contrast to her own son who aspires to a military career and to the militaristic attitudes of Israel itself. These are represented by the song of the Macabees, sung at deafening decibels by the children in Nira’s class and by the foul-mouthed lyrics to the equivalent of a color war song sung by the five year old Yoav and his classmate. The boy’s poetry unleashed in Nira the passion that has been missing from her own marriage, freeing her from its constraints into an adulterous liaison with her own poetry teacher and a loose-haired wild dance that’s a stand-in for a ménage a trois. So many symbols for us to contemplate!
On its most superficial level, a movie has to be believable if we are to move from the realistic to the allegorical. Scenes where the teacher bathes the child suggest an erotic fixation which is too far removed from the character of this wife and mother. Eventually, a scene where she gets locked in a bathroom by a lock on the outside of the door leaves us no choice but to abandon all credibility in where the director is leading us. The artistic vs militaristic dichotomy with ascendant planes and soldiers dancing spastically is too clichéd to generate anything more than “here comes another shallow metaphor” - eventually re-inforced by the actions of the police at the end. Even the child’s exaggerated lisp becomes acutely annoying instead of simply cute. There is no explanation for where he might have plucked such phrases as “graying banality” or even the word “matador” in a country without bull-fighting.
The Kindergarten Teacher is a movie that throws various tropes out to the audience, hoping that some will resonate and relieve the writer/director from the task of creating a coherent film. This version might contain the germ of an idea that should have been carefully re-worked several times before release. In fact, it’s in the kindergarten stage of a work of art - as it exists, it’s premature and gasping for air.
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