THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (Nadav Lapid). 116 minutes. Subtitled. Opens.
THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (Nadav Lapid). 116 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (August 14). Rating: NNNNN
Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s melancholic and seductive sophomore feature laments a lost appreciation for art while, like the titular antihero, actively searching through life’s nooks and crannies for something beautiful.
The magnificent Sarit Larry plays Nira, whose interest in her five-year-old pupil Yoav (Avi Shnaidman) is slow-burning, discomforting and tragic. She notices his uncanny ability to freestyle poetry, so she nurtures that gift to ensure Yoav doesn’t lose it to modern-day perils: uninterested parents, pop culture and other kids who just want to play.
As Nira creeps into Yoav’s life in ever more disturbing ways, she writes down his poetry and passes it off as her own. Their relationship edges toward victim-and-predator, but bubbling beneath the troubling educational methods is a complicated conversation about art and the audience. What constitutes poetry and how we observe, translate, obsess over and manipulate it?
Lapid winks at our own currency in this transaction in the opening shot, when a character watching a crass talk show bumps the camera and looks back at us as if to say, “Oh, you’re here too.”
The film breaks the fourth wall only one other time before the precise, hypnotic camera work finds its way into the most telling places without calling attention to itself. It would be a crime not to appreciate such mastery.