We all had our favourite teachers growing up. The ones who made us laugh, the ones we thought were the most fun, the ones who taught or showed us things that made a go "Whoa!" But how many of us can say that we had a teacher that saw so much more in us than we - or anyone else around us - did, to the point where they’d kidnap us to make it possible? We can still dream, can’t we...
Sundance darling and writer-director Sara Colangelo’s sophomore effort ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ has finally arrived in Australian cinemas after receiving a Netflix release last year in North America. This is an English language remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same name. And from all accounts little has been lost in the translation, resulting in an equally stunning film.
Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal, ‘Secretary’) is a 20-year veteran of teaching kindergarten, a year in a young person’s life filled with such a delicate balance that can set you up for your entire scholastic career. Raising two typical teenagers who are private, dismissive, angst-ridden and believe that Instagram is real photography, she seeks more from her mundane life through a weekly adult education poetry class taught by Simon (Gael García Bernal, Amazon Prime's ‘Mozart In the Jungle’), the overly handsome yet self-important teacher, where her sub-par work is constantly criticised as being derivative and cliché. When Lisa witnesses one of her students Jimmy (Parker Sevak) spontaneously compose a very moving poem far beyond his five years of age, Lisa begins an obsession to nurture the prodigy's talents despite constant pushback from Jimmy’s indifferent family and others around him. Lisa’s want to see Jimmy evolve into more than the people she’s surrounded by everyday - including herself - as she pushes the boundaries of appropriateness and a teacher’s care.
Let’s be clear here - the divine Maggie Gyllenhaal makes this film.
Let’s be clear here - Maggie Gyllenhaal, the divine Maggie Gyllenhaal, makes this film. She has an unparalleled gift to convey the subtlest of emotions in the quietest of moments with just the tiniest of facial expressions. While Colangelo appears to be a very deft filmmaker, the greatest move she made was casting Gyllenhaal. The juxtaposition created here where the minutiae in each scene of this film is the most haunting element when compared to the hidden inner workings of this woman whose fixation comes across as almost natural, so human and so maternal that you empathise with her to an extraordinary degree.
While it’s hard to fault ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ - and in fact I won’t here - it must be said that the entire film is encapsulated so perfectly in its all-too-beautiful final scene. It is so tragic, exquisite and uncertain that it absolutely killed me. The expected and cliché are nowhere to be seen here as ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’s’ final act plays out in a thriller-like fashion. Hold on just a little longer Maggie, that Oscar will be yours one day.