You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know that the recent Maggie Gyllenhaal vehicle The Kindergarten Teacher was a remake of a 2015 Israeli movie. Although the original breezed through film festivals and a limited release without much fanfare, Nadav Lapid’s unorthodox character study is a singular piece of psychological and societal contemplation, channeled through the lead character and coy camerawork. Sarit Larry plays Nina, a career kindergarten teacher quietly vexed by a middle-aged longing that manifests itself in evening poetry classes. When Yoav, one of her students, spontaneously composes a poem in the schoolyard, Nina is both profoundly moved and selfishly envious. As it turns out, Yoav is something of a naïve savant, consistently doling out wise-beyond-his-years verses to whoever’s within earshot. Like an act of fate, Nina finds her purpose: protecting and cultivating Yoav’s talents, at any cost.
A singular piece of psychological and societal contemplation, channeled through the lead character and coy camerawork.
The Kindergarten Teacher, like 2014’s Policeman, proves Lapid to be a refreshingly idiosyncratic director. He avoids the melodramatic pitfalls of this scenario, allowing the cherubesque Yoav to exist only as a cipher while molding Nina into an emotionally complex and altogether believable woman of the kind rarely seen on screen. Much credit goes to Sarit Larry, who lets Nina be all things at once: quixotic and rash, selfish and compassionate, bold and pathetic — and without overplaying any of those characteristics. Nina is a puzzle, both to herself and the audience, and she defies being solved. Despite dubious intentions, she alone understands that the 21st century is designed to quash Yoav’s innate ability with words, capitulating to the pessimism of the movie’s so-called happy ending.
You can currently stream Nadav Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher on Vudu.