Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Kindergarten Teacher: NZIFF Review

The Kindergarten Teacher: NZIFF Review

Based on the film Haganenet by Nadav Lapid, Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Lisa Spinelli, an adrift kindergarten teacher in this rather odd piece that veers creepily into territory that's unsettling.

Unhappy with her kids refusing to eat dinner as family, with one who would rather use Instagram to further her once burgeoning photo career and flailing in her poetry class, Spinelli finds her life changed one day thanks to five-year-old Joe (Parker Sevak).

Joe appears to spontaneously erupt into poetry, and Spinelli, sensing there's more here, decides to nurture him after taking one of his poems, reciting it in class and receiving accolades.

But she spirals further into pursuing his talent, what emerges is dangerously close to obsession.
The Kindergarten Teacher: NZIFF Review

The Kindergarten Teacher is an odd watch at times, with Spinelli's behaviour seeming borderline unsettling in its naivete and its execution.

And while there are definitely questions over Spinelli's actions, there are no questions over Gyllenhaal's performance as she descends. Committed, human and with subtle changes as the film goes on, Gyllenhaal imbues her character with the signs of some kind of breakdown and innate sadness.

It's hard to keep a film like this ambiguous without the audience becoming ambivalent, and while some moments border very closely to steering the film in a direction where you don't want it to go, Gyllenhaal and to a lesser extent, Sevak, manage to keep it just on the right side of uncertain.

"This world is going to erase you" is just heartbreaking to hear and when the frustration behind this is expanded further, Gyllenhaal gives Spinelli soul and a reason for her growing insanity - sadly, it's all too reflected in the modern world and in Spinelli's children.

In a weird way, The Kindergarten Teacher does feel like a psychological horror wrapped up in a drama, as the edges and lines become blurred - but as a subtle portrait of a breakdown and potentially, abuse, it perhaps works better.

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