75 minute should be a short enough duration for a film right? But in the case of Hannah Fidell’s independent debut feature A Teacher, i felt as if it lasted for 3 hours before it finally ended. Like the muted, dark colors of the film, it offers a bleak story of a morally questionable sexual relationship between a teacher and her student.
A high school teacher in Austin, Texas Diana Watts (Lindsay Burdge) has an affair with one of her students, Eric Tull (Will Brittain). The film started at the middle of the relationship, where the two stole meaningful glances at each other in the middle of a classroom and conduct curricular activities of their own. As the story developed we learned that Diana is more invested in the relationship. Diana is a very likable teacher, the sort that her students loved to hang out with, she kept a quiet appearance in front of her work colleagues, she’s detached from her housemate and had no interest in guys of her own peers. Despite her own paranoia and fear of becoming a social pariah, she kept doing things she instantly regretted (e.g: taking selfies of herself topless to send to Eric), yet she kept coming back to him to continue their forbidden affair. I guess forbidden apples are the most delicious, aren’t they?
I remember reading a book by Barry Lyga called Boy Toy, which has the same topic, which is a student-teacher relationship. The book was from the 13 years old boy perspective, he adored his female teacher, he even thought of her in a sexual way before they finally started the affair, and thought that he was destroying his teacher life when their sexual relationship was found out. The thing is the boy believed that he was in love, but even as it ended the teacher was still branded as a sexual predators. I guess Fidell trying to address the grayness of the situation, although her pair seemed more mature, but still invites a lot of question about morality and challenged the society for their own views of the matter. I think the sex scenes in the stories trying to reflect that, remained in gray and black shadows, like her own fear and choice of making the tryst remain hidden away.
I sympathize with Diana, and the film felt more like a character study of her own descend towards her psychological despair. Lindsay Brudge stood out with her dark brooding expression that constantly replaces her perfect teacher façade that she maintained in front of her peers and students. Through her Fidell challenged her own viewer opinion regarding the matter in an observational way that remains grey and shadowed. Enhanced by the haunting composition that add a layer of moodiness to the film. At least i applaud her for keeping it somewhat tasteful not making it into a sleazy film. Yet, i was on the fence on the film in general. I feel like this would create stronger impact and work better as a 20-30 minute short. The duration (which is already relatively short) felt padded and the narrative felt muddled and repetitive.
A Teacher is definitely thought provoking, it did not criticize but merely made a bleak portrait of the issue. Captivating yet weakens by its own repetitiveness. But continues Fidell’s own exploration of broken heroine as her short film The Gathering Squall does.
A TEACHER (2011)
GENRE Short, Drama
DIRECTOR Hannah Fidell | PRODUCER Hannah Fidell, Kim Sherman | WRITER Hannah Fidell | CINEMATOGRAPHER Andrew Droz Palermo | MUSIC Brian McOmber | EDITOR Sofi Marshall | COUNTRY United States | RUNNING TIME 75 minutes | RELEASE January 20, 2013 (Sundance)
STARRING Lindsay Burdge, Will Britain