THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER, drama, not rated, in Hebrew with subtitles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher is the story of Nira (Sarit Larry), a teacher who discovers that her five-year-old student Yoav (Avi Schnaidman), a child prodigy, has a gift for reciting poetry. The controversial film focuses on Nira’s obsession as she becomes determined to cultivate the boy’s talents. Yoav can spontaneously recite lines that, to Nira, are full of magic and reveal a level of sophistication beyond his years. Nira sees beauty in his poetry. His father, a restaurateur, is distant and has little time for Yoav, whose mother ran off with another man. Yoav’s passion for poetry was inspired by an uncle and he recites his lines to his nanny Miri (Ester Rada), an actress who appropriates them for her auditions unbeknownst to the boy.
What begins for Nira as a fascination develops into something more disturbing, as she oversteps her bounds and interferes in the boy’s family life. At school she attempts to develop his intellectual capacities, separating him from the other students and teaching him concepts such as pain and death via physical demonstrations. She’s managed to get Miri fired for using Yoav’s verses without permission, but she has done the same, claiming his words as her own at a poetry class. But Nira believes her motivation to be more well intended than Miri’s. She wants to authenticate the richness of Yoav’s verses, testing them before an adult audience before revealing them to be the poems of a child.
Nira becomes protective of Yoav’s innocence, seeking to shield him from a world that doesn’t understand the beauty and grace of poetry. The stifling effects that society has on creative self-expression is among the film’s themes. In its observances of other characters and events, there is a sense of despair, of people going through the motions of their lives but lacking the kind of passion that Nira sees in Yoav and longs for in herself.
Shnaidman gives a remarkable, believable performance that never feels coached, reciting lines of poetry that are beyond his ability to fully comprehend but not beyond his ability to feel. But the poems don’t sound quite as good as you might expect. It may be that the verses just don’t translate well from Hebrew to subtitled English, but another, more disturbing reading is that Yoav isn’t quite the prodigy Nira thinks he is. As Nira, Larry’s focus is intense. Her attentions cross a line, but abuse is more suggested than explicit throughout, although, as it progresses, their relationship becomes increasingly erotically charged. Lapid’s film presents the unadulterated realm of childhood from the perspective of the cold, mature arena that threatens to annihilate it. Nira is an agent of this desperate and angst-ridden adult realm, in which childhood is inevitably subsumed whether she realizes it or not. — Michael Abatemarco
From sandboxes to sonnets: Avi Schnaidman and Sarit Larry