The kindergarten teacher

- Review by Niamh Muldowney

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The Kindergarten Teacher is probably the most unsettling non-horror film you’ll see this year. Sara Colangelo’s film is the American adaptation of the 2014 Israeli film and follows the story of a kindergarten teacher getting unhealthily involved in the life of one of her young students, Jimmy (Parker Sevak) after he shows talent beyond his years with poetry.

Firstly, Maggie Gyllenhaal truly carries the film. Her believable and nuanced performance as Lisa shines throughout and it is a testament to her skills as an actor that she gets the audience to at times sympathise, and at others be horrified by Lisa’s actions. Because, make no mistake, her actions are questionable at best, and while nothing too awful happens to Jimmy, her disregarding of teacher student boundaries is deeply unsettling.

Technically, the film does make a handful of interesting choices. However, it appears to me that they were more made for the sake of showing off, rather than to add anything to the film. One particularly egregious example would be the aggressive use of shallow focus, especially at moments when you’re meant to be focusing on what’s in the background. While shallow focus may be effective in a photograph, when used so frequently in film it becomes distracting and detracts from otherwise absorbing scenes. Another moment that stood out was the almost slideshow-like sequence of the kindergarten class. While it was an interesting choice technically, it’s stylistically at odds with the rest of the film and doesn’t even sit right thematically, as Lisa doesn’t pay particular attention to any of the other children apart from Jimmy after he shows her his poem. So, once again, while being a curious creative choice, without the narrative centre to back it up, it ultimately falls flat.

The film does have some intriguing ideas about creativity, taking the view that it is a finite resource in today’s world and that some people are specifically suited to creating. It also talks about how the modern world stifles art, that children will grow out of their natural creative ways if not supported by those around them. Whether you agree or not with this stance the film should still be praised for how it explores this idea.

All in all, the film left me with a strong feeling of discomfort, and I was equally relieved and outraged upon reaching the end of the film. However, from going back and viewing the trailer (which incidentally spoils almost the entirety of the film) it is clear to see that this discomfort is intentional, and, in that way, one must applaud The Kindergarten Teacher for achieving its goal. Not every film needs to be happy or have a good moral centre, but you should be fully aware that The Kindergarten Teacher is not a happy film. It still has some interesting things to say, and does so in some compelling ways, and it is worth a watch if you know what you’re getting yourself into.