Sundance 2013: ‘A Teacher’, an excellent and quiet character study

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A Teachera-teacher-poster-404x600
Written and Directed by: Hanna Fidell
2013, USA

Diane is well-liked. The attractive young teacher is popular with her students and respected amongst her peers. By all outward accounts she seems to be following the path set out for her by society. But behind Diane’s estimable facade lies a secret that threatens to upend her entire existence.

In a story seemingly ripped from the headlines, A Teacher explores the morally complicated relationship between Diane, a high school English teacher, and Eric, the student with whom she is having an affair. First time feature writer/director Hannah Fidell’s quiet character study avoids many of the pitfalls inherent with such a plot, preferring to instead explore the weaknesses in character inherent in all of us.

Lindsay Burge delivers a break-out performance as the emotionally fraught Diane. Her thin smile, kept appearance, and restrained demeanour, project calm, but as the film descends into turmoil it becomes apparent Diane’s unresolved past and unwillingness to exist in the present threaten to bring down her house of cards. Diane’s unraveling is unique in a way because while there are those moments where the audience is left to squirm in their seats as she narrowly avoids discovery, Fidell doesn’t seem to delight in torturing or dragging the audience through the mud the way that you might expect other filmmakers to do.

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Fidell’s world is brought to life due in no small part to the help of associates Andrew Droz Palermo, Director of Photography, and composer Brian McOmber. Beautifully shot, A Teacher has a natural look and feel that edges on the ethereal at times as Diane is sometimes given to daydreaming about her student crush. Palermo and Fidell’s employed use of intimate close-ups and cloistered extended takes add to a sense of loneliness and help to plant the audience firmly in Diane’s world. Building on and accentuating that effect of loneliness are the sparsely layered drums and solo instrumental from McOmber.

A Teacher reminds us that for many, a smile can only mask the notion that we are one poor decision away from ruin. Fidell seems to have a firm handle on that concept as she leads audience down Diane’s reckless path towards desolation.

– Scott Colquitt

 

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