"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Kindergarten Teacher

The Kindergarten Teacher ,  הגננת  ,  directed by Nadav Lapid, is about whether or not we appreciate poetry and poets in our society. This is a subject that could have been of interest to the film-going public, but this film does not succeed in gripping us sufficiently so that we can empathize with this issue.

The story is about a kindergarten teacher, Nira, who becomes obsessed with a 5-year-old boy who writes poetry.  Nira notices that Yoav, one of her pre-school children, goes into a trance every now and then, paces back and forth, and begins to recite poetry.  She becomes fascinated by this, begins to favor the child, tries to teach him special things, and copies down his poetry.  Nira is married with two grown children and is attending a poetry workshop where she presents Yoav's poems as her own.  Her obsession enters every aspect of her life -- for example, she answers a phone call from Yoav so that he can tell her his newest poem,  even as her husband is trying to make love to her (even his full frontal male nudity does not seem to distract her from this phone call)!

Poetry in the film is portrayed as sensitive and artistic, versus the heroic and masculine virtues of our society. We see this in two scenes -- when Nira's son's army officer congratulates them on making their son into "a soldier, a human being, a man" and at the Chanukah celebration when the children sing about Judah the Maccabee as the heroic "redeemer of the nation."  Yoav's father, a successful businessman and restauranteur, is obviously against his little boy becoming a poet and he does not want to encourage it, since he feels that poets are unappreciated in our society.

According to Uri Klein, the film critic for Ha'aretz, this is the best Israeli film of the past year!  But I choose to differ. 

I got tired of the film when it began to enter into the realm of political statements.  Nira takes Yoav to the beach and teaches him a poem about Ashkenazim and Sephardim, trying to radicalize him and teach him about societal issues.  Not only does this seem inappropriate for a little boy, but it seems to be derailing the narrative construct. 

Mostly, I felt that the pacing was drawn out and the camerawork was always drawing attention to itself.  The  camera lingered too long on each face, on each moment, on each scene, creating a self-indulgent, troubling, uneasy feeling, and creating too much sexual innuendo.  When Nira showers the little boy because he got sandy in the sandbox, the camera watches her every movement so closely, creating exaggerated sexual tension and making us feel terribly uneasy.

According to the filmmaker, Nadav Lapid, the film is semi-autobiographical, in that he was that little boy who wrote poetry.  I much preferred his previous film, The Policeman (previously reviewed on this blog). 

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