By: Shannon Page
Despite the understated aesthetic appeal of a few scenes, Israeli writer and director Nadav Lapid’s drama about a kindergarten teacher (Sarit Larry) who discovers a prodigal talent for poetry in one of her young students is remarkably dry of feeling.
As the plot moves through an earnest attempt to explore the necessity for preserving art and beauty in a world that is increasingly hostile and dismissive of poetry, the characters motivations and feelings remain largely a mystery. Sarit Larry’s character, Nira, is particularly baffling. Her actions throughout the film are inexplicable and, as a result, leave her firmly beyond sympathy.
An unexpectedly bright moment in the film is Israeli singer-songwriter Ester Rada’s small supporting role as the young poet’s nanny. Rada is impressive; her energy is palpable and the moments when she is on screen are truly enjoyable to watch.
That being said, a minimalistic approach to the soundtrack means that the responsibility for much of The Kindergarten Teacher’s emotional impact falls on the actors and dialogue. There is a sense that the film is building up to something dark and ominous, to which feels like a half-hearted attempt to create tension. Some of the transitions and pacing do succeed in this regard, to a degree, and young actor Avi Shnaidman is genuinely unsettling as the five-year-old poet. It is no more possible to form an emotional connection with his character than it is with Larry’s, though the result is compelling and creepy due to the incredible youth of both the actor and character. Whether this was the filmmaker’s intention or not, however, is difficult to determine.
Without a firm understanding of reasoning and motivations behind a character’s actions, it is impossible for an audience to connect with them. Connection is an essential component of any film’s emotional impact. As an audience, we want to feel something. Sympathy, hatred, embarrassment – anything. Lapid has, ironically, written a script about emotion and art that is completely void of emotion and which seems to deny its audience the opportunity to enter the minds and hearts of its characters.
For a film with so much emotional and visual potential, The Kindergarten Teacher’s exceptionally slow pace and stiff dialogue are a particularly sharp disappointment.
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