A Country Teacher

Troubled by his sexual orientation, a teacher gets an education in self-acceptance and forgiveness during a rural pastorale in this beautifully crafted bittersweet dramedy from Czech writer-helmer Bohdan Slama ("The Wild Bees").

With:
With: Pavel Liska, Zuzana Bydzovska, Ladislav Sedivy, Marek Daniel, Tereza Voriskova, Zuzana Kronerova, Miroslav Krobot.

Troubled by his sexual orientation, a teacher gets an education in self-acceptance and forgiveness during a rural pastorale in this beautifully crafted bittersweet dramedy from Czech writer-helmer Bohdan Slama (“The Wild Bees”). Although self-hating homosexuals and the healing power of nature constitute hoary cliches, “A Country Teacher” mostly manages to make something sincere and poignant out of them. While unlikely to match the international success of his previous outing, “Something Like Happiness,” it should click with fests and Euros webs. Domestic opening in March notched 180,000 admissions.

Fleeing a sex-without-love relationship in Prague, Petr (Pavel Liska, in a career-best performance) takes a post in the sticks, teaching natural science to tots. Although he lectures, “If we don’t understand nature, then we can’t understand ourselves,” he’s got a lot of learning to do about human nature.

Petr spends his off hours on a neighboring farm run by accepting earth mother Marie (lanky Zuzana Bydzovska) and her hunky teen son Lada (Ladislav Sedivy). Before long, the threesome’s strong friendship is threatened by unrequited desire: Marie’s for Petr, and Petr’s for Lada.

As he proved in previous work, Slama is a master at depicting yearning. But here, it’s when Petr tries to actualize his longing that the narrative falters. The script’s Christian metaphors also add to the awkward earnestness of the pic’s approach to its protag’s sexuality. Title and “all is grace” ending evoke Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest.”

The bright tech package by Slama’s regular crew is top-notch, especially the long-take widescreen lensing of regular d.p. Divis Marek, which allows emotion and energy to accumulate during a shot.

Of particular note is a pair of live calving scenes, the final one marking Petr’s realization that “nature produces only originals, each one of us is different. Diversity could be a gift or a trap, it all depends on what we do with it.”

A Country Teacher

Czech Republic-Germany-France)

Production: A Bontonfilm (in Czech Republic) release of a Negativ (Czech Republic)/Pallas Film (Germany)/Why Not Prods. (France) production, with the support of the State Fund for Czech Cinema, Czech TV, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, Eurimages. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Pavel Strnad, Petr Oukropec, Karl Baumgartner, Thanassis Karathanos. Directed, written by Bohdan Slama.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Divis Marek; editor, Jan Danhel; music, Vladimir Godar; production designers, Vaclav Novak, Petr Pistek; costume designer, Zuzana Krejzkova; sound (Dolby Digital), Jan Cenek. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days), Aug. 30, 2008. (Also in Toronto -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 115 MIN.

With: With: Pavel Liska, Zuzana Bydzovska, Ladislav Sedivy, Marek Daniel, Tereza Voriskova, Zuzana Kronerova, Miroslav Krobot.

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