Beautifully crafted, with an authentic 80s Communist aesthetic, The Teacher is a lesson in the power of the collective.
In a Bratislava primary school in 1983, smiling and buoyant teacher Mária Drazdechová (Zuzana Mauréry) introduces herself to her class. With her bouncy curls and floaty dress she looks like a typical sweet, kind-hearted teacher. She asks each child to stand up and tell her what line of work their parents are in. As each parent discovers, if you’re willing to help Mária – with the taxi rides, shopping, cooking or cleaning – your child will know ahead of time what they will be tested on. Their grades, so important for progression to secondary school, will be good.
Most are willing to go along with it, part and parcel of being in a Communist regime, but when the teacher’s victimisation of several students comes to a head, a parent meeting is called. Like a version of 12 Angry Men, those who benefit from Mária’s favouritism argue it out with those who don’t. I couldn’t help but think of the current debate about the Safe Schools program in Australia to support and protect LGBTIQ+ kids; when you are not personally disadvantaged, it can be hard to show empathy or acknowledge your own privilege.
This could be a dry and grim story but it is told with a wryness that accentuates the ridiculousness of the situation. The production design is gorgeous – all muted greys and reds punctuated by 70s graphic wallpaper. Mauréry is perfect as the sweet face of oppression. She seems so reasonable in her expectations of personal comfort and sociopathically oblivious to the unethical nature of her requests.
The most poignant story is that Mr Littman (peter Bebjak) and his son Karol (Richard Labuda), whose mother has defected in order to further her career. Mária’s inability to understand the dynamic of this simple and tragic human relationship underscores her delusion. Although in many ways this is played for humour, Mária is representative of a mentality and political ideology that does so much harm.
Have you seen this film? let me know what you thought in the comments below.