The Country Teacher (2009)

The Country Teacher is a misleading title. Yes, the film takes place in the country and yes, the protagonist is a teacher but there’s not much to be had of either. The number of teaching scenes can be counted on one hand and a lot of the beautiful countryside gets lost by the end of the film. It’s a tricky film this one, promising us one kind of film and then quickly shifting into something else that doesn’t work all that well.

A teacher (Pavel Liska) moves out of his well standing job at a high end prep school to teach in a small country school. As a teacher of natural science he’s taken in by the beauty of the countryside and the peace of the land. But soon things get complicated. What starts as a simple relationship with an old farmer named Marie (Zuzana Bydzovska) becomes a bit more conflicted when she inevitably makes advances on him. Even worse is when he falls in love with someone else and an old lover returns risking not only this relationship but his life in the country.

The film starts off as this slow, poetic thoughtful examination of the teacher character. As the film gradually explores why he alienated himself and what he hopes to find in the countryside the film gradually peels him back layer by layer. As he reads books on spiritualism and listens to somber music we get glimpses into his soul. It’s a deliberate and artistic first act, slowly easing us into the place and the character as he begins to get his bearings and take root in this place.

But then he makes a confession. It’s a simple and powerful one and it ought to be a revelation that explains a lot but instead it simply becomes a springboard for writer/director Bohdan Slama’s dramatics. It’s after this confession that the film becomes less interesting as the film tries to broaden itself into the drama of multiple lives and develop these complex relationships and characters. It’s an admirable attempt but it doesn’t work for a number of reasons.

For one, it entirely shifts the tone of the film and doesn’t fit with what Slama set up the film to be. There’s a scene where the teacher goes to pray in the church and is interrupted by the noise of a vacuum cleaner. Like that vacuum cleaner the drama has just become unnecessary noise in the life of this interesting person. It’s no longer compelling to watch him develop  because once the revelation of his character is revealed we fail to learn anything interesting about him, he’s simply dropped into a series of increasingly larger dramatic problems.

And the dramatics get out of hand rather quickly. It’s to the point that in one scene two lovers sleep together in one room, destroying two relationships at once while the person in the next room dies. It’s too much and it is so forced. There’s never a flow or plausibility to the drama, it’s just a series of rising conflicts cut together so that by the end they feel like they just served to drag our protagonist through hell and back without forcing him to change.

There are a number of beautiful moments both in terms of the story and the cinematography but as the film went on I found myself less and less interested in the plight of our character. It’s unnecessarily complicated, adding complexity that the film didn’t need. Give me more scenes of the teacher lecturing his class or reading amidst bales of hay and less of the heavy-handed dramatics. The depth and nuance promised in the first quarter of the film are lost and so is the prospect of a good film.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing