Recalling the director’s teenage affair with a teacher who would later come under FBI scrutiny for allegedly dealing in art compromising to minors, Jennifer Montgomery’s “Art for Teachers of Children” is autobiographical fiction that brings intelligence and wit to the complex issues of eros and age. While this no-budgeter may be too unpolished for major arthouse success, skillful handling should score attention at fests and other specialized situations.
Filmmaker provides personal tone by narrating tale of herself at 14 (played by Caitlin Grace McDonnell) going off to a Northeastern boarding school and becoming smitten with John (Duncan Hannah), a young, married teacher interested in art photography. Tale transpires in the 1970s, capturing well the way naivete and sexual adventuring combined.
Characters are both embarrassing to the extent they are recognizable. Jennifer, sulky and passive, offers to pose topless and later, in the spirit of the times, announces that she’s ready to lose her virginity.
John, whom she describes as an “aristocratic hippie,” proves less a predator than a callow opportunist in taking her up on both offers, all the while speaking of art and literature. Their affair comes to light eventually, ending John’s school career and marriage. When he relocates to Newport, R.I., she goes off to spend weekends with him, and they continue the romance as well as his nude photography of her, even though on one such outing a school friend serving as a supposed chaperone reveals that John slept with her, too, and chides Jennifer for believing everything her lover tells her.
While the present-day Jennifer voices retrospective misgivings about John’s use of her, when pic shifts forward to 1989 in its later stages, she rebukes the FBI for pursuing him, since the case offends her ideas of artistic freedom. All the same, the wisest words here belong to Jennifer’s mother, who says that John isn’t a pervert but a nebbish, and counsels that there’s “nothing more dangerous than a boring man who makes bad art.”
Commendably free of angst and blame-shifting, pic has a wry, ironic air and a sharp way with period and behavioral details. Acting’s occasional amateurishness and the rough-hewn B&W look serve the authentic, first-person feel, while adding little to the film’s own artistic credentials.