Nira (Sarit Larry) is a middle-aged kindergarten teacher whose routine life is reinvigorated by the discovery that one of her pupils is an artistic genius.
From time to time five-year-old Yoav (Avi Shnaidman) begins to pace across the kindergarten floor, indicating that he is about to deliver the most profound original poetry. And he does. His nanny, aspiring actress Miri (Ester Rada), records his work and passes it off in auditions as her own.
Yoav’s father, Amnon (Yehezkel Lazarov), is a hotshot restaurateur. The boy’s mother abandoned him to be with her lover when he was a baby, leaving his poet uncle (Dan Toren) to care for him; an influence that obviously had a significant effect. When Nira visits Amnon, she reveals Miri’s plagiarism, which results in the nanny’s dismissal and presents an opportunity for Nira to have greater access to the child.
Nira is determined for Yoav’s gift to be nurtured and protected from the ravages of society and time. She seeks confirmation of Yoav’s talent from her own poetry teacher Oded, whose subsequent exploitation only reinforces her fears.
Nira’s agenda becomes covert. When all the pupils are napping, she wakes up Yoav to teach him adult concepts such as evil (by crushing an ant), violence (by slapping herself) and pain (by pinching her skin), putting her own “good intentions” into question.
The stream of tension that runs throughout The Kindergarten Teacher, showing in Adelaide as part of the Israeli Film Festival, is possibly the film’s biggest feature. There’s a lot that could happen; the intimate camera work and the unpredictable plot hint at possibilities.
But in the end it’s an anti-climax. Even the references to the divide between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews appear pointless – not that you would want to see some of the possible outcomes.
Perhaps it is this disappointment that is the point Israeli director Nadav Lapid is trying to make: that reality and beauty are only in the eye of the beholder. And that the beauty of poetry should be treasured in this hostile modern world.
The Israeli Film Festival opened this week s at Palace Nova East End Cinemas and continues until September 4. The Kindergarten Teacher is screening on Saturday night.
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