Watch This: A Teacher

I have a confession to make, and if anyone from Sundance is reading this, I apologize for my momentary lack of good judgement. But I don’t regret it!

A-Teacher-2013-Movie-PosterYou see, though my role at the festival didn’t grant me the privilege of viewing the films in advance (a blessing reserved only for the most senior or most directly involved staffers), it did grant me management of the press DVD screeners submitted by filmmakers. And one Friday just before the festival, with the very real threat of snow on its way, I took the discs home (with my manager’s permission!) to be able to organize them from there should we all be stranded in the storm. With the festival quickly approaching, it needed to happen and indeed, it snowed and snowed that weekend.

How was I not to slip A Teacher into my DVD player at some point that weekend, the much-buzzed-about new film from Hannah Fidell, a lovely young lady and talented filmmaker I had the chance to get to know when we programmed her earlier feature, We’re Glad You’re Here, at the Indy Film Fest in 2011 (Nuvo called it one of the Festival’s best entries that year)?

Since its promising run at Sundance, the movie – a character study of a young teacher who finds herself dating an even younger student of hers – was picked up by Oscilloscope and, while awaiting a September theatrical run is currently enjoying a spot in the top 25 most-viewed movies on iTunes. The popularity is well deserved. Taut in its plot and sincere in its emotional anguish, A Teacher is less about the scandalous headlines of a teacher/student relationship and more about the struggle of a young woman who would find herself, when every fiber of her being knows it’s wrong, giving in to this particular temptation.

There is no effort to explain away Diana’s indiscretions; instead, Fidell leaves us to read into her tortured decisions, her vulnerability what we will, and actress Lindsay Burdge (also the captivating star of WGYH) plays equal parts predator and victim in studied, deliberate strokes that leave you wondering why you’re sympathizing with a woman engaging in what amounts to pedophilia.

And yet, sympathize we do. Eric is a child, and yet he’s clearly a man, dominant and confident in ways the uncertain Diana responds to practically involuntarily. As the situation eventually and inevitably unravels, we witness as both the repercussions of her decisions begin to dawn on Diana as well as the realization of just how screwed up she may be to have gotten herself in this predicament in the first place.

I saw A Teacher eight months ago (and when I bumped into Hannah at the Awards event, I couldn’t even tell her how much I loved it, given the shady circumstances of my viewing!) Given how long ago it was, I’m not sure I can recall clearly every detail of every scene. But what has not left me in the time since I’ve seen it are the compelling characters developed on screen, the laser-like focus of a story which could have easily delved into seediness, and the slight sense of an “I told you so” in there, too. Having seen something special in WGYH a few years ago, I’m so glad to say Fidell’s delivered again, and then some, in A Teacher.