HIFF Review: 'The Teacher' Is a Compelling Czech Drama

Zuzana Maurery was named best actress at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for her portrayal of a teacher .

“The Teacher,” which is being screened as part of the Hampton International Film Festival this weekend, is an impeccably constructed Czech film set in the final decade of Communism about a teacher who extracts favors and services from her students and their parents in return for inflated grades. Oscillating between drama and satire, the film works on several levels.

When one parent is unable to provide the requested service, the teacher, Ms. Drazdechova, in an extraordinary performance by Zuzana Maurery, mercilessly targets his daughter until she attempts suicide. Her parents then petition the head of the school to have the teacher removed.

A meeting of the parents is called during which the majority, whose children have benefited from their cooperation with the teacher, vilify the complaining parents, insisting their children’s bad grades are their own and their parents’ fault. The meeting, during which the complainants defend their children, is intercut with scenes that establish the teacher’s compulsive manipulation of the children and parents for her own ends.

The conflict, and the uncertainly about which way the parents will ultimately vote, is suspenseful and compelling drama in itself, calling to mind “12 Angry Men.” The fact that Ms. Drazdechova is the leader of the local Communist party situates the story within the politics of that era and elevates it to a metaphor for the power and corruption of a totalitarian state and the unwillingness of its citizens to defy it.

Jan Hrebejk, the director, and Petr Jarchovsky, the screenwriter, who are frequent collaborators, have crafted a seamless, riveting film that blends suspense, humor, and pathos with a wealth of finely drawn and flawlessly portrayed characters.

"The Teacher" will be shown again Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at East Hampton UA 2.