Sunday, October 14, 2018

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER - BFI London Film Festival 2018 - Preview

Sara Colangelo's faithful remake of the Israeli drama THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER is a beautifully acted, tense, slippery little film that has the confidence to leave some of its motivations mysterious. It stars an ever-superb, ever-brave Maggie Gyllenhaal as a teacher in Staten Island called Lisa Spinelli.  She lives a life where she has failed to inspire her own teenage kids to do anything meaningful. And while she attends a poetry class in Manhattan, taught by Gael Garcia Bernal's Simon, it's clear that while she may be artistically sensitive, she has no talent of her own.  One day, a little kid in her class called Jimmy (Parker Sevak) starts reciting poetry that is so precocious, and perfect, that Miss Spinelli is taken aback.  All of a sudden she has a mission in her life that makes HER unique and special by proxy - to be the guardian and nurterer of this little boy's talent.  

What I love about this film is that it continually throws us off balance. At first, when we see Lisa recite Jimmy's poetry in her Manhattan class, we wonder if this is going to be a film about plagiarism and theft. But no, her motives appear pure - at least in her own mind, everything she does is in the service of Jimmy's talent. She keeps telling herself this as her actions become more and more extreme, and the question Colangelo poses to us as the audience is how far we are willing to go along with her, and at what point we start questioning what is really going on here. How far is Lisa just trying to relive her own lost opportunity to shape her kids lives - how far has she become unmoored?

What I admire about Maggie Gyllenhaal is her willingness to play slippery ambiguous characters and take us into sympathising with her even as she does morally questionable things. Without spoiling anything, there's something so heartbreaking about Lisa's conversation with Jimmy through a door at the end of this film - at once the capable caring teacher, at once the emotionally trampled upon woman - that catapults this film to another level. I also love that this film simply allows the child to be a prodigy - and in its appallingly sad final lines, for Lisa to be right...

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER has a running time of 96 minutes. It played Sundance 2018 where Sara Colangelo won the directing prize. It also played Toronto and London. It opened in the USA last weekend and will open in the UK on February 8th 2019. 

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