Simon Dillon reviews this psychological drama

The Kindergarten Teacher

An absolutely superb central performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal forms the core of The Kindergarten Teacher, writer/director Sara Colangelo's English language remake of an Israeli film by Nadav Lapid (which I must confess I haven't seen). The Kindergarten Teacher is a slow-burn, psychological drama that gets under the skin in a quite remarkable way.

Gyllenhaal plays Lisa, an art loving kindergarten teacher who is drawn to one of her charges, five-year old Jimmy (Parker Sevak). Jimmy is a child prodigy poet, whose extraordinary talent Lisa feels is in danger of being ignored or crushed by indifferent parents and carers. She takes it on herself to nourish his talent, but gradually her interest becomes an obsession.

Performances are uniformly superb. Parker Sevak gives a superb, naturalistic performance as Jimmy, but this is really a showcase for Gyllenhaal. Every understated glance, head movement, expression or gesture does everything a great performance should in showing rather than telling what her character is experiencing. The nuanced and restrained screenplay assists with this, as does the unshowy but nonetheless quite brilliant direction. Colangelo makes one or two particularly superb choices in the finale that stayed with me long after the credits rolled.

Speaking of finales, there are a number of well-worn paths it might have taken. This could have been a horror possession story (Jimmy makes eerie reference to a woman called "Anna" in his poems). This could have gone the psycho-thriller route, or to some even darker places. However, Colangelo opts for something quite different and far more thought provoking. The Kindergarten Teacher is about the rarity of true artistic talent, and the way an indifferent world can crush it. It is also about the dangers of living vicariously. Lisa's indifference to her husband, disappointment in her own children, and in herself, causes her to take increasingly dangerous and inappropriate risks with Jimmy.

Of course, none of this can end well, but I was surprised by just how sympathetic I felt towards Lisa. That is both testament to the brilliance of Gyllenhaal's performance, and a result of my own peculiar psychological make-up, which leads me onto my final point. Like all great art, how you respond to The Kindergarten Teacher will depend on who you are as a person. Whilst I felt sympathy, others might not - or perhaps, not to the same degree. Either way, this is a tremendous film and comes highly recommended. CR

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