Yoav Pollack (Avi Shnaidman,) an adorably precocious kindergartner who is also a brilliant wordsmith, captures the attention of his unstable teacher Nira (Sarit Larry) who becomes dangerously obsessed with with maintaining the continuation of his poetic talent in this unsettling Israeli drama. The majority of the film follows Nira as she becomes increasingly disenchanted with the ordinary people surrounding her and pushes her little Mozart to succeed in the poetry world and maintain his creative chutzpah. Obviously you can’t push a child that young to reach artistic greatness without eventually breaking him, and Nira’s all-consuming obsession with young Yoav will have eventual and long-lasting ramifications.
Of course, the boy’s talent is never about him or his happiness as much as it is about Nira and her failure to make anything meaningful of her life. Like an ugly mother who enters her attractive daughter in a beauty competition, Yira is simply living vicariously through her bright-eyed young student. And while she avoids having sex with her husband (Lior Raz,) Nira disturbingly finds some kind of outlet in bathing the young boy (in a supremely creepy scene, although none of the child actor’s sensitive parts are shown.) Yoav’s father (Yehezkel Lazarov) could care less about his son’s burgeoning talent, but the icily determined Nira is determined not to let it fester.
Sarit Larry’s spectacularly unlikable protagonist strikes me as an incredibly cold creature, preoccupied with putting up a veneer of warmth. At this she does a tremendous job, vacillating between deeply damaged and deeply disturbing in the smallest but most tremendously telling ways. Larry has some of the most coldly striking eyes I’ve ever seen, and even when she smiles, it doesn’t seem to reach those eyes as much as startlingly contrast them. The boy is adorable and shows a kind of genuineness on screen, his character displaying a kind of Asperger’s-like oddness in his behavior and precocious examination of his narrow world.
Despite the compelling nature of the premise and the impressive display of acting talents, I felt this movie tended to drag a little too much. It’s two hours long and nothing really seems to happen until the last twenty minutes. The characters also seem pretty unlikable with the exception of the young boy. Although The Kindergarten Teacher is well-filmed, with extraordinary tracking shots and close-ups and well-acted, I had difficulty getting sucked in by the story it had to tell. it didn’t help that I had no sympathy for Nira, an ice queen unconcerned by exploiting her student’s talent and sacrificing his happiness for what she thinks he should do with his life.
Also, no matter how precocious Yoav is, the sheer sophistication of his poems seem very unlikely. I came across a theory online that Yoav was blessed with an eidetic memory and merely recited the poems his uncle (Dan Toren) had written, and that actually sounds more plausible to me than the surface explanation (that the kid was a flat-out wunderkind.) The Kindergarten Teacher is a well-made movie that ultimately leaves you a little cold, without the confidence in its clinical iciness that made Michael Haneke’s films so effective. It’s definitely worth watching, but I don’t expect it’ll make you want to add it to your collection immediately after. Technically outstanding, but not much fun, and not entirely memorable due to your lack of concern or interest it’s characters.