Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"The Country Teacher": Czech film about a gay teacher gradually wanders into danger

Perhaps Eastern Europe is just getting started in the LGBT market, and the film by Bhodan Slama, “The Country Teacher” (2008, Czech Republic, “Venkovsky ucitel”) is certainly expansive, sensitive, and goes into some dangerous territory.

The teacher is a bepseckled 30 year-old played by Pavel Liska. His mother is a chemistry teacher in Prague, and, as we learn, his parents know he’s gay and have some reluctant acceptance – harder on the father because he will not have further heirs.   After disillusionment in a relationship with a contemporary, he “runs” from his life and takes a job teaching grade school science in a rural school.  The headmaster has misgivings, but helps him get an inexpensive room on a farm owned by an older widow (Zuzana Bydzovska) with an attractive, lanky teenage son Pava (Ladislav Sedivy).   Life on the farm is somewhat primitive, as everyone has chores like drawing well water and pitching hay. The ex-partner  (a bit soft and unattractive) shows up in the school, pretending to be a school official, and tries to get the “teacher” back into the relationship, creating emotional and practical disruptions. 

But in the meantime, at the urging of the mother, the Teacher starts tutoring the teenager, and for a while all goes well, as the boy’s grades improve and it seems he will be able to go to college. Along in this sequence, there is a scene where a farm cow has a miscarriage, and that will turn out to be important symbolically.  To celebrate the boy’s successes, the two go to a party, and they get drunk. A sequence follows where the teacher definitely crosses the line.  It’s quite sensitively filmed, but it is clear that the teacher was not “trapped” or involuntarily tempted (a concept in my own screenplay, causing so much consternation when I was a sub and it was found online).  In many situations (not in the country), the teacher could have been prosecuted.  In this case, the storyteller finds a more upbeat way to bring things to resolution.

There’s an interesting classroom explanation by the Teacher, early, of why worker bees become asexual and remain loyal to the “Queen” without becoming “losers”.  Later, he asks if it is a problem for him to be a teacher because "I am a homosexual."  And in a scene late in the film, officials say "it's come to be a recogized thing". 

The official site (Czech) is here.  The film was distributed in Europe by 20th Century Fox, and by Film Movement in North America. The film is shot, very professionally, in full 2.35:1 anamorphic, and looks "big" with a lot of rural scenery in rolling country, as well as some impressive takes in Prague.  

The DVD comes with a 10-minute “monthly” short film, this one from the UK, “Peter and Ben” by Pinny Grylls. A British shepherd forms an emotional bond with a non-conforming sheep.

Film Movement certainly does pick independent films with provocative concepts and storylines. 

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