Review / ‘The Teacher’ (M) ***

CZECH director Jan Hrebejk’s film, set in 1983 at a Bratislava high school, begins with teacher Maria (Zuzana Mauréry) on her first day getting to know the students. What are your parents’ names? Where do they work?

What seems like a genuine concern for student-teacher relationships shields a malignant intention. For Maria’s compiling a hard-copy data base on which to give her a comfortable life in difficult times. She will trade good grades for students in return for free provision of scarce goods and services from parents. No favours? Low marks. And don’t tell.

At parent meetings, she is a dab hand at manipulating outcomes. She’ll say one thing behind a closed door then go into the meeting to deny it and accuse the person concerned. For not only has she parents in the palm of her hand, she also has local party functionaries and their superiors in the capital on her side.

If this sounds grim – and to those enduring it in reality, it would have been – Petr Jarchovsky’s screenplay leavens the film’s reminiscence of a harder time with a mix of satire, courage and corruption.

Those dramatic ingredients work well together, especially when aided by a comely anti-heroine. Not until Mr Binder confronts her is there any glimmer of righteousness. And it’s going to take more than a parents’ meeting to intensify that glimmer into a bright glow. But we can still smile at what we have seen.

At Palace Electric

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