How far should a person go to cultivate great art in others? If you knew without a shadow of a doubt the next Mozart or Picasso, would you ignore everyone else and fight to give the world its next visionary? With his second film, The Kindergarten Teacher, writer-director Nadav Lapid (Policeman) crafts a story of obsession for the sake of art.
The eponymous teacher Nira (Sarit Larry) discovers one of her young students, 5-year-old Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), has a tendency to pace back and forth then espouse original poetry that captivates his teacher and his nanny, Miri (Esther Rada). While the nanny uses Yoav’s verses for her acting auditions, Nira presents Yoav’s words as her own to her poetry group. As Yoav’s poems continue, Nira realizes his gift has gone unpraised and deserves attention, which Yoav doesn’t receive from his restaurateur father.
Nira’s love of Yoav and his poetry becomes increasingly hostile and borderline sexual. Nira leaves relations with her husband to receive a call from Yoav so he can dictate his latest poem to her. Lapid shows Nira’s quest to present Yoav’s material as a way for her to escape her humdrum life. The more she engages in Yoav’s art, the more she discovers who she really wishes she were, and what she’s been missing in her own, complacent cycle of an unfulfilling job and boring nights with her spouse.
Unfortunately Lapid’s script doesn’t make Yoav’s poetry all that great. While it is impressive a child of his age could create poetry of any kind, the work doesn’t match Nira’s willingness to give up her life as she knows it to celebrate his talent. Whenever Nira or Yoav presents his words, there’s one side that admires them greatly, while the other side reacts violently. It’s hard to believe any audience could experience the former given this simplistic poetry, but even more ridiculous to believe it could incite such rage.
Lapid’s third act almost seems like it could—and should—end with each new scene, as matters escalate to a point where Nira both goes to her most extreme and her most obsequious. Yet even when the story does go off the rails, it’s held together by Larry’s wonderful lead performance. Though her actions might seem absurd, Larry makes her intent understandable; she clearly just wants to do what is best for this child and for the world of art in general.
The real beauty in The Kindergarten Teacher lies in Lapid’s gorgeous direction. Lapid moves his lens so closely to his characters, they accidentally hit the camera, shaking the frame. Many figures get uncomfortably close, as in one scene where Miri walks out of the ocean, straight to the camera, and sings one of Yoav’s poems. It leaves the audience no other choice than to focus on the words. Lapid often puts the camera at a child’s height and keeps characters off screen, making them all the more intriguing as we wait for them to appear.
The Kindergarten Teacher considers the power words can have, yet its weakest aspect is the disappointing words we’re supposed to be enraptured by. Still, Lapid’s skilled direction and Larry’s fascinating performance allow us to find the true art in the unexpected, much like Nira does herself.
Director: Nadav Lapid
Writer: Nadav Lapid
Starring: Sarit Larry, Avi Shnaidman, Lior Raz, Ester Rada
Release Date: July 31, 2015 (limited)
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.