Well versed

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES -

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

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