The Kindergarten Teacher: a (not so) poetic world
by David González
- Nadav Lapid offers a magnetic and perplexing portrait of the relationship between a kindergarten teacher and a very special student in this Franco-Israeli co-production
One fine day, a kindergarten teacher witnesses the moment when one of her students starts to walk compulsively in the yard, in the presence of his nanny, minutes before bluntly stating: “I have a poem”. The nanny jots down the poem in a notebook while the child recites it impassively, emphatically and in a way that is strangely adult-like. What comes out of his mouth is poetry that could only be created by someone who has lived a long life, someone who has gained great wisdom over the years: someone who can name a Chinese master and mention God's light. Obviously, no child in the kindergarten could do so. Israeli director Nadav Lapid uses this unusual event as the starting point for the Franco-Israeli co-production The Kindergarten Teacher [+see also:
film profile], featured in the official section of the Seville European Film Festival, following its success in Critics' Week at the last Cannes Film Festival. And “unusual” is one of the best words to define the movie: the image of how this event affects the kindergarten teacher magnetizes the screen and brings the viewer on a strange and perplexing journey, rarely experienced before now.
Nira, the kindergarten teacher, who happens to be an amateur poet, undertakes a determined struggle to protect Yoav's miraculous talent. The child gets little attention from his too-busy father, his absent mother, his selfish nanny and his dull (poet) uncle. Nira begins to encourage his gift, caring for it and calling on it at all times, to the point of selfishness also. In her classes she pretends that the child's poems are hers. She tries to make the child get inspiration even during nap-time and in the end she takes it all a step too far by doing something that cannot be undone. There are many elements to this story: human estrangement before an unprecedented situation (its raison d'être, if it exists, is never explained), the cynicism with which we approach adult reactions (from exploitation to indifference) to childhood innocence, and finally, the struggle to protect art, to make room for it in a world which, in the words of the director, “beneath the mask of normality, lies a difficult place”.
Sure enough Lapid trifles masking his camera view. His capacity for innovation and his courage take him a step further than his thrilling debut, Policeman (critique), to venture out further with his camera, through direct contact (from the blows he receives from a character, to continuous camera close-ups in his direction) and clever camera angles (from a child's perspective). Lapid's camera is, indeed, like a child, one with the same gift as Yoav: an incredible and unexpected talent to create new forms of expression, and to be eye-catching. And, like that child, the movie asks a lot of questions that are difficult to answer...even if it oozes superb irony from the most daring adult. The Kindergarten Teacher, co-produced by French Haut et Court and ARTE France Cinéma, has moments of poetry and moments of quite the opposite.
(Translated from Spanish)