Three and a half stars
Loneliness is terrible. And sometimes it makes an otherwise good person do terrible things. That is the theme of “The Country Teacher” (“Venkovsky ucitel”). Bohdan Slama’s film centers on Peter, a homosexual science teacher who takes a job in the Czech countryside to escape the darkness of his life in the big city. Unfortunately for him and a mother and son he befriends, the darkness comes along.
“The Country Teacher,” which screened at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival/Cinefest, is an interesting film on a provocative subject. It’s difficult to love a film about molestation but there are a lot of things to like about this one. For starters, life in the Czech countryside is beautifully captured on 35mm film. When Peter befriends a lady farmer and helps her with her chores, the audience is given real insight into what it’s like for these rural folks day to day. They love their land, they love to drink beer and dance, and occasionally, they have to hand-deliver calves by yanking them out of the mother cow by hand.
I also appreciate the way Slama handles Peter’s homosexuality. He makes sure to show, early on, that Peter has not been subject to external oppression for his sexuality. When he comes out to his mother (his father already knows), her response is simply “you shouldn’t be alone.” She only wants him to be happy. When his ex boyfriend (with amazing Judd Nelson hair and dark glasses) comes to town, he serves to represent Prague and its progressiveness. Any torment Peter feels is entirely self-inflicted. So when he develops an extremely unhealthy attachment to the teenage son of his farmer friend, we know they aren’t saying, “Gay people are pervs.” Just that “Peter has problems.”
Where “The Country Teacher” seems to fail is in its conviction. For a very long time, it’s not clear whether or not the boy in question is bi-curious himself. With his indie haircut and tight t-shirts, the boy certainly has that “Gus Van Sant extra” look to him. At one point he tells his girlfriend that he’s not sure they “fit together.” And how many times have you gone on sunset boat rides with your tutors? Not that, if he turned out to be gay, it would make Peter’s actions acceptable. But it would definitely change things.
I’m also not sure how I feel about the ending. I will try to keep things spoiler-free, but if you plan to see this film, you should be warned: loneliness is terrible. And sometimes it makes an otherwise sensible person do nonsensical things.
Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).