Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

When I started The Teacher I really didn’t know if I was going to get into the film.  I’ll admit that the plot really intrigued me but as the actual film moved forward I found myself a bit…I don’t want to say “bored.”  I didn’t think the film was living up to what the back of the DVD cover sold me.  I almost turned the film off.  I’m very glad that I did not.

The Teacher is actually a very well done drama that almost borders on a horror film.  Set in 1982 Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, the film’s premise is quite simple.  A new teacher comes to teach a bunch of kids in middle school.  She calls out each child’s name.  When the child stands she wants to know what exactly their parents do for a living.

The teacher is Maria Drazdechova (Zuzana Maurery) and she is actually held in high acclaim in the Communist party.  It’s important to understand that Bratislava was still a part of that old school Russian communist U.S.S.R. in 1982.  The parents of these kids fully understand what it means to try to live your life while fearing your government.

Drazdechova knows exactly what she’s doing here.  She uses the knowledge of what these parents do for a living and uses it her advantage.  She goes to the parents and tries to get special favors from them.  She gets what she wants from the parents?  She gives them tips on what their kids should study.  Parents don’t play ball?  Their kids not only get bad grades but get tortured by the teacher.  Over and over and over again.  Some of the kids start to crack under the pressure and it gets pretty serious for everyone.

The thing about the film is it tells the story of what the teacher is doing to these kids but this part of the plot turns out to be told in flashbacks.  The non-linear storytelling interweaves all of the parents in the present being brought together to talk about what this teacher is doing with the story of the kids and the parents playing (or not playing) along.  With her ties to the Communist Party the parents are right to fear the woman.  She has the power to wreck their world.  This world isn’t much of a world for most of these parents as it is.  Most of them lead meager lives and only want their children to get the best education possible.  Now?  Now they are at the mercy of a woman trying to do everything she can to get what she wants.

The actors give very low energy performances.  I can pretty much accept this because of the time period they are living in.  They live under a Communist regime and therefore live muted lives.  Even as the parents meet to discuss the teacher (some of the more well off parents don’t care, those with little or whose kids are being tortured care a lot) the discussion doesn’t get too heated.  They are frightened.  But they also want what is best for their kids.  The actors are decent but not very memorable overall.

The kid actors are really another story.  They just were not great child actors.  I would really think that casting, then directing, kids can really be tough and you never quite know what you are going to get.  I never bought the children as actors in a role.  It was more of here are a bunch of kids who memorized their lines and are just trying to regurgitate them to get through a scene.  Maybe I’m spoiled after the great kid performances this year in productions like Stranger Things or It.  Those children drawn you in.  The children of The Teacher do not.

The knockout performance here was Zuzana Maurery as Drazdechova.  She was phenomenal.  She really able to convey that she was doing what was best for herself, that she could be a friendly person, and that she could be a truly scary monster.  Some of her scenes with the children are phenomenal.  Maybe that’s why the kids had such a problem?  Because Maurery was way too good of an actress and, thusly, quite scary on the set?  It is Maurery who completely sells this movie and her performance alone makes The Teacher worth seeing.

Overall The Teacher has quite an interesting dynamic with a story that is told well overall.  For a lower budget film from the Czech Republic dealing with 1980’s Communism, I found myself quite drawn in by the midway point.  The end was truly a punch in the gut, which is how I love my movies to end.  Always go out on a high note.


And a postscript of sorts:

The DVD has no special features to speak of except for a short film called Sacrilege.  The film is about a bunch of Muslim street punks who hang around selling drugs, getting drunk, and being a general nuisance.  The main punk is a dude named Saoud who seems to have a lot of money.  When the local mosque is robbed all eyes are on Saoud.  At first he just wants to walk away from the situation but the angry mob wants to confront him.  It is then a battle of the wits and the minds as Saoud tries to defend himself, talk about how he is a good Muslim, and how these punks truly don’t represent the Islamic faith.  The short is only 15 minutes and has zero ties to the actors/writers/directors of The Teacher.  I liked the short film overall and, on its own, was a great watch.  I’m not sure what it has to do with The Teacher but I’m glad they added it to the DVD.  If you watch The Teacher on DVD, definitely give Sacrilege a spin.

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