The behavior behind female teachers sleeping with their male students is perversely fascinating. As a society, it creates a gender divide where some people feel openly comfortable being impressed with an abuse of power. But no one wants to acknowledge the emotions that would arise from the actual affair. We’re always looking at it from after the news breaks. Hannah Fidell‘s A Teacher takes us to the other side where we look at the intimacy between the teacher and her student. Never judgmental and oddly compassionate, Fidell never sensationalizes the relationship, but she also seems at a loss on how to develop the film’s conflict. Eventually, the direction feels like it’s overcompensating for a redundant narrative where we may be seeing the untold story, but there’s no compelling drama in the telling.
Diana (Lindsay Burdge) is having an affair with her handsome student, Eric (Will Brittain). She believes in it as a real relationship rather than the obvious escape it provides from her loneliness and her ill mother. Unwilling and uninterested in finding a mature relationship, Diana becomes more and more dependent on her student. Eventually, their roles become reversed as she is powerless to the illusion of intimacy she’s created.
Fidell sets up an interesting dichotomy by reversing the trend we assume has taken place when this kind of story becomes headline news. The assumption is that the teacher has abused her power by sleeping with a student who lacks the emotional maturity to have control over the situation. However, the film is torn on trying to earn our sympathy for Diana while also trying to remain distant and objective. Fidell doesn’t want to play into lurid details, and she makes the relationship sexual instead of sensual.
The movie doesn’t need nor should it sensationalize its subject matter. However, because Fidell wants to be non-judgmental, she attempts to over-dramatize the proceedings. The music rises in intensity, a few shots use a strobe effect, and we constantly return to shots of Diana running (because she’s running from her problems, you see). What’s meant to draw us in feels heavy-handed, and it makes the proceedings feel even smaller by comparison. Diana and Eric’s relationship borders on mundane, and while that may be the reality of these kinds of affairs, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re watching a meandering narrative where Fidell is trapped by the limits of her story.
Again, I respect that the filmmaker doesn’t want to share the distasteful coverage of these kinds of affairs, but it would be naïve to think that this kind of coverage didn’t provide the inspiration for this movie. A Teacher wants to look on the other side of what we see, but it rarely finds anything worthwhile.
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