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Violation and redemption in Country Teacher
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Violation and redemption in Country Teacher

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

The Country Teacher
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The pastoral splendor of The Country Teacher, by Czech director Bohdan Sláma, is consistently interrupted by storms of uncontrollable desire and unrequited love that result in irredeemable violations. Talk about your cinematic tension!

Petr (Pavel Liska) is a teacher who escapes Prague and heads to the country to teach the farm kids biology. All goes well until a drunken attempt to reify his physical attraction for the sleeping teenaged son of his new best friend Marie. Talk about your narrative tension!

Despite the heavy material, this is a beautiful movie to look at. The cinematography is elegant and understated. The Czech countryside is charmingly swathed in green and gold, and cinematographer Divis Marek wisely allows the innate beauty of the landscape to exist unmolested.

The actors, many of whom worked with Sláma previously on Something Like Happiness and The Wild Bees, are wonderful. Liska takes a nice turn as the tightly wound city slicker retreating from Prague's urbane emotional wasteland to the what he imagines will be bucolic nirvana. Instead, he finds a different set of temptations altogether.

Marek Daniel is delightfully smarmy as the teacher's shallow ex boyfriend from Prague. After he's rebuffed for proclaiming his love for Petr, he simply starts to badger the unmoved teacher for sex without missing a beat. He even looks creepy as he drives off in a Fiat Barchetta convertible, a tough car to look creepy in.

Zuzana Bydsovská scores big as Marie, the hardworking single mom with a leathery demeanor and a weathered face. Marie spends her time herding cattle and fending off the unwanted advances of a local hayseed before striking up a friendship with the perpetually uncomfortable Petr.

And Ladislav Sedivý gives a measured performance as Lada, the pissed off, angel-faced teenaged son of Marie and the problematic object of desire for Petr. Lada's randy antics with his girlfriend give way to sullen anger as layers of the rural ideal are stripped away and we learn that dad was a jerk and mom has her own demons.

Lada's normal teen angst is compounded by his family dynamics, which leave him unable to cope with his city-girl girlfriend who is attracted to his rustic charm (and that face) when visiting relatives in the country, but who wouldn't be seen with him in Wenceslas Square in a million years. Of course, all this rage bubbles to the surface shortly after Petr's indiscretion.

The Country Teacher tries valiantly to uncover various contexts for flirtation, amorous pursuit, rejection, and both physical and emotional violation. While copping a feel from a troubled sleeping teenager is certainly reprehensible, the film insists on asking questions about degrees of violation and subsequent forgiveness. The material can get uncomfortable quickly, but good films often get uncomfortable.

The potentially didactic and arguably climactic classroom scene recalls similar scenes at the end of the seminal Queer films Nighthawks (1978) and Taxi zum Klo (1981). However, Sláma doesn't let the scene slip into predictable apologia or defiant justification. The monologue is tempered and while we get it, the message isn't dropped on our head. Petr may attempt to come to terms with his actions, but we don't have to.

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