A story set in a land beyond happiness
by Theodore Schwinke
- With A Country Teacher, Czech auteur Bohdan Slama again presents his unique and challenging vision of a world in which happiness is not always what we expect
With just three films Bohdan Slama has established himself as the Czech Republic's leading auteur. Part of the first generation of filmmakers to emerge after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Slama won international acclaim immediately upon graduation from Prague's FAMU film academy. His first feature, Wild Bees, screened in competition at Rotterdam in 2002. It was the Czech submission to the Oscar race and won the grand prize at Cottbus.
His follow-up, Something Like Happiness [+see also:
interview: Bohdan Slama
interview: Pavel Strnad
film profile], took the Golden Shell at San Sebastian in 2005 and screened at Toronto, Cottbus, Linz, as well as getting the Oscar nod.
A Country Teacher [+see also:
interview: Bohdan Slama
film profile] narrowly missed its chance at Berlin and Cannes last year, premiering instead at Venice, before winning the Audience Award at Cottbus and Best Actress and Best Cinematography honours at Stockholm.
Like all Slama's stories, A Country Teacher has a rough-hewn, folksy character. It challenges viewers' expectations in that the resolution is incomplete and in fact seems to celebrate sadness, yet still gives the audience emotional satisfaction.
In the film, the focus is on Petr (Pavel Liska), a closeted homosexual who leaves his teaching job in the city for the classrooms of a remote village. In doing so he seeks to leave behind the domination of his mother, the headmistress of the city school, and his boorish lover.
Several conflicts drive the plot. Middle-aged widow Marie (played fearlessly by Zuzana Bydzovska) confesses her attraction for Petr, who in turn harbours desire for Zuzana's 17-year-old son, Lada (Ladislav Sedivy). Petr's jilted lover turns up and instigates further chaos by seducing Lada's girlfriend. When Petr confesses his true feelings to Marie, the story arrives at a sudden, violent impasse, which the characters can overcome only through will and determination.
DoP Divis Marek, who also shot Slama's previous films, has a sensitive touch which never draws attention to itself but which is nonetheless artful. “He is very open to actors and to situations that can't be repeated, those very soft moments that are so important,” Slama says.
International critics have praised Slama's relaxed storytelling, which retains a sense of humour even in grim scenarios, and his use of visual details to add depth to the characters and settings. Slama is also praised for his portrayal of small-town life, refreshing for audiences accustomed to city scenes in general or the Prague skyline in particular. The characters of A Country Teacher speak Czech but their provincial milieu is universal.
A Country Teacher is produced by Negativ (Czech Republic), Why Not Productions (France), Czech Television, and Pallas Film (Germany), with funding from the State Fund for the Support and Development of Czech Cinematography and Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung. Producers are Petr Oukropec, Pavel Strnad, Karl Baumgartner and Thanassis Karathanos.
Bontonfilm distributes A Country Teacher in the Czech Republic, where it has seen 195,000 admissions. Memento Films will release the film in France on April 1, Cinéart in Belgium on July 15, Wild Bunch Benelux in Nederlands on August 6 and Neue Visionen in Germany on August 27. Wild Bunch handles international sales.