Set in a Slovakian school during the 80’s, The Teacher tells a story about of Maria Drazdechova (Zuzana Maurery), a teacher with strong family ties to the communist party. For her, the start of each new year, begins with an introduction by each of the students, complete with information as to what their parents do. What this has to do with a parent’s meeting, baying for Drazdechova’s blood a few months later? Well, there in lies the tale.
Splitting it’s action between the events in the parent’s meeting and the events of the classroom, The Teacher tells it’s story in an intriguing manner – part courtroom drama, part schoolroom recollection, part comedy. As events unfold we become aware of what is at stake and the various factions within the room.
In many ways this film does speak volumes about the worst in humanity – greed, cowardice, corruption, manipulation, exploitation, and abuse of power over the most vulnerable. Yet The Teacher still manages not to drown you with a darkness of subject matter, instead staying amusing and entertaining. It may cut close to the bone, but it is a comedy first and foremost. That wry observation about human nature skewers the subject in a more devastating way than a pure drama ever could. In itself, that balance of tone is quiet an achievement. Helped by a light and emotive score, that supports rather than overwhelms the action on screen.
Key to this is the central performance by Zuzana Maurery. Her portrayal of the titular character, is a perfect mix of pomposity and feigned innocence. When required though, you can certainly see the steel beneath this somewhat over preened velvet glove, as threat and menace bubble to the surface. It really is masterfully handled, as Maurery is able to elicit some sympathy for the character, even when she is at her most vile. Despite her manipulation and the devastating impact this has on others, you get the sense that she is unaware of the inequality of her actions. This, to her, is merely the way of the world.
In part, she’s right.
You can see this born out by her support within the Parent’s meeting, as the system takes care of its own. As such it serves both as a historical document, criticizing the system of that era, but also serves as a more general satire against entrenched corruption.
A well pitched piece of comedy drama, that can cut deep with its commentary.