For Czechophiles, Bogdan Slama`s latest film, `The Country Teacher`(Venkovsky Ucitel), is a must see. With its panoramic shots of emerald forests and sapphire lakes, the film captures the magic of the Czech lands. Moreover, `The Country Teacher` radiates that indescribable Central European essence much like a Hrabal novel.
And yes, there is a story as well. A timeless and beautiful one at that, a fable about love, self-acceptance and our indestructible need for others. The `teacher` in question has left a prestigious teaching position in Prague, transferring instead to a village elementary school. The locals are glad to have such a learned person teaching their children. Yet, they can`t understand why he has come. Self-effacing and bookish, the teacher inspires his new pupils. Soon, he makes the acquaintance of a simple peasant woman and her teenaged son. Helping the son with his math lessons, the teacher soon becomes a regular at their dilapidated farmhouse.
Yet, cracks begin to appear in the teacher`s seemingly enigmatic mask. He is lonely and stand-offish, yet he rejects the romantic advances of the farm lady. He confesses that he is fresh from a break-up and needs time to be alone.
The real reason behind the teacher`s confusing behavior soon becomes clear. Back in Prague for a short vacation, he comes out to his parents. It turns out that he has escaped the temptations and disappointments of big city life and has sought out an idyllic refuge in the country. Soon the teacher`s former life catches up as an ex-lover pays a visit to his science lesson. The teacher must face his true identity in his new environment.
Caught in this dilemma, the teacher suffers and soon succumbs to his desires. He attempts to seduce his young student. Rejected, the teacher suffers a personal crisis. He alienates both the boy and his mother and fears his `secret` will destroy his new life. How the teacher chooses to deal with this situation is the crux of the film.
The power of `The Country Teacher` lies in its masterful portrayal of self-deception and its terrible cost. Slama has called his film a study in `forgiveness.` While forgiveness is central to the film, `The Country Teacher` examines our inexplicable need to be accepted and loved, by ourselves and by others as well. The film artfully portrays our human hunger for connection, one that can lead either to disaster or to intimacy. The film explores both consequences in depth.
The acting here is impeccable. The two leads, Pavel Liska as the tormented teacher and Zuzana Bydzovska as his kind-hearted and ultimately forgiving friend, bring these troubled characters to life with precision and power. Yet, the film`s greatest strength is the camera work of Davis Marek. With his sweeping shots of the Bohemian countryside and intimate close-ups of the locals, you feel transposed to some forgotten hamlet of Mitteleuropa. Finally, the film`s score is perfect, blending the most disparate musical genres (punk & classical harpsicord) to enhance each scene.
`The Country Teacher` is a short-story brought to life on film. Echoes of Maupassant or Flaubert can be heard throughout `The Country Teacher.` For those searching for a moving study of human character, `Venkovsky Ucitel` is an excellent choice. With its subtle touch and deep empathy, the film has much to say about the human condition.