The Country Teacher

Country TeacherVenkovský Ucitel

Bohdan Slama :: Czech Republic :: 2009 :: 1h57

The introverted Petr (Pavel Listka) arrives in a little Czech village to take the job of biology teacher at the local school. As Petr was raised in a teachers’ family in Prague, we are led to wonder what he is looking for, or running from, in this secluded corner of the world. Contrary to expectation, he seems to be finding a place for himself. Again, contrary to expectation, it is all a little more perverse than you might expect.

As in director Slama’s previous film, Something Like Happiness, the weight of depression looms over the characters. But it is not an unhappiness provoked by external factors (of say a job or poverty) but rather by the passions of the characters themselves. They are pushed in a direction which is not necessarily the “right” direction for them, and at the expense of themselves or others. Ridicule is no obstacle for the drunken suitor of the cow herder Maria, nor is humiliation for the young lover Lada. The characters do not have a self-control over their passions, falling victim to irrational needs which separate the civilized from the brutes. We could been tempted to attribute their lack of self-control to their provinciality, but our guide in this remote world, the educated Petr himself, is no stranger to weakness.

As we watch the story unfold amongst the birds and the bees, making up our minds as to why Petr is in that village and gaining an understanding of the side characters, I can not help but feel that the whole tragedy remains unconvincing. It is the great challenge of literature and cinema to render improbable relationships credible, but when you lift yourself out of the tale to calibrate, the discord becomes apparent. Or maybe we should ask ourselves if pardon should really be the pinnacle of love? A captivating movie with a few rough edges which does not completely win its bet. But you do get a tender insiders view on the loneliness and camaraderie of country life… if you want it.


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