Sundance Next Weekend 2013 Review: A TEACHER, Lessons In Obsession Fall Flat
The film's minimalism becomes a symptom of the director's unwillingness to define her story and characters rather than using it as a definition drawn in simplicity and starkness; elements that usually act as a through line, straight to the core of a film's emotions and themes. Fidell and Burdge aim towards obsession as the culprit of Diana's fatal attraction, and rightfully so, but Diana's increasing pull/push with Eric is mildly one-note, diffusing any tension by merely being manic/depressive with no real nuance. Sure, one could argue that rings true of a person who is on an obsessive path, but this defiance against a richer form and complexity, however minimal in technique, made me feel unengaged with the film at best.
Production-wise, A Teacher has all its ducks in a row. Burdge follows through with a woman-on-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown with genuineness -- albeit she is stuck in a movie that doesn't really quite understand this scenario. McOmber's score is indeed the highlight, clattering and clambering across avant-garde structures with an often riveting tempo. Andrew Droz Palermo's gray-toned cinematography recalls more a dreary European landscape, making one forget we're actually in Texas -- this makes for an interesting reflection of the character's inner states. But that is perhaps the only interesting parallel to draw from A Teacher's 75 minute run time.
Indeed, Fidell's exercise in playing with a mild, peripheral narrative scope rather than honing in on a meaty movie-of-the-week hulabaloo (which so many films playing with this subject unfortunately do) is commendable and may very well find its fans. While I in fact prefer minimalism and alternative narrative practices in cinema, definition of what the filmmaker intends, even in their ambiguity, is still key to a film's success. A Teacher lacks this focus almost entirely.
A Teacher had its world premiere last January at the Sundance Film Festival and recently played at Sundance's NEXT Weekend mini-fest. Oscilloscope will release the film on VOD in the U.S. on August 20th and in theaters starting September 6th.