Educators are tasked with a great responsibility: inspiring a thirst for knowledge and a passion for art and science in each generation’s youth. Nadav Lapid’s new film The Kindergarten Teacher takes this mission to a new extreme. A teacher, Nira (Sarit Larry), discovers that one of her students Yoav (Avi Shnaidman)—a quiet, stoic child—is a brilliant young poet with wisdom and abilities that extend beyond his age. She deems it her mission to nurture his ability at the risk of everything. The extent to which Nira makes Yoav the focus of everything in her life, the more disturbing the film becomes.
While the plot of The Kindergarten Teacher is relatively straightforward, the entire film is heightened by the intimate and artful cinematography. Shot by Shai Goldman, the camera is almost a character in and of itself. Scenes are often shot from the center of the room, with the point of view doing a full 360 rotation as if to survey the surroundings before settling on a focal point of a scene. This is, perhaps, the task of a poet: seeing everything—all possible things—in a setting and finding what is most meaningful. This type of filming makes the audience hyper-aware of the camera’s existence. It creates a metaphysical experience within the story—heightening it beyond plot and character.
At other times during the film, the camera is invasive. On more than one occasion, characters will get too close or even knock the camera. Goldman also shot from a child’s point of view in some scenes—approximately three or four feet above the ground. In a particularly disturbing instance, Nira bathes Yoav after recess and as she wipes sand off his body, subjects him to her own poetry. The scene is long and uncomfortable, as Yoav stands at the center of the frame, almost completely unresponsive to Nira’s work and yet, he can’t go anywhere. Yoav is frozen, the camera is frozen, and the audience is frozen too.
The tension is built through the intimacy of Goldman’s lens, and this attention to details heightens the film in a calm, steady way. The Kindergarten Teacher is not a hysterical film. Nira doesn’t fly off the handle. She is poised and deliberate in her madness, as is the camera, altogether giving the story a more nightmarish quality. The style mirrors the narrative. Educators, despite all their good intentions, can be invasive, omnipresent, and haunting in some ways. There is a closeness that is wrong. It is this combination of filmmaking and story that is key to The Kindergarten Teacher’s success: the audience becomes fully immersed in a visually stimulating and often unsettling cautionary tale.