Her bond with 5-year-old Jimmy Roy, a bright and butter-wouldn’t-melt cute kid, isn’t what it sounds like. This isn’t a horror film or a traumatising account of what happens when an adult crosses the line – but it’s no less affecting. A spark alights in Lisa when she catches her student in some kind of trance, pacing back and forth while muttering a string of words. Without him or anyone else realising until now, it seems like Jimmy could be a prodigious poet.
Isn’t she just doing her job? Catching and preserving moments of illumination in her students? Is she responsible for it? Or if she isn’t, can she try and be? ‘Our culture does everything to crush talent’, Lisa explains scornfully to Jimmy’s babysitter, less than spellbound by his poems.
When she isn’t cutting up finger-sized vegetables or painting circles in bright primary colours, Lisa attends evening poetry classes. This is where she lets her mind wander and words flow; at home her husband is too blank, her teenage children are too self-involved to care. As her unnamed attractive teacher (Gael García Bernal) looks on and gives her less than hopeful feedback, she knows that something isn’t quite right.
There’s a restlessness to Lisa’s psyche. As creative as it might be emotional, it’s the fixation on Jimmy’s art that triggers some kind of motion in her life, at last. As the teacher and student grow closer, Gyllenhaal’s performance becomes greater. A sensitive and incisive portrait of affection and fascination, the way Lisa behaves offers infinite complexity: you know what she’s doing is wrong, but in the intricacy of her persona and the ongoing war between art and emotion, it’s difficult to pass any kind of condemning judgement.
Colangelo builds a delicious world of soft focus and bright colours around the people struggling with words. An aesthetic preoccupation with vision and sound gives the film a playful lightness, which anchors the palatability of such an alarming situation. There are no fewer playground slides in a story where a woman still needs to have sex when her words aren’t good enough.
The Kindergarten Teacher asks clever questions of moral responsibility, creative control and emotional maturity. A dissonant moral compass leaves the gate open for interpretation of how protection and control intwine in the name of loving art, and the struggle in caring about each other. Just because you've had to call the police on someone, it doesn't mean you can't hold their hand while you wait.
The Kindergarten Teacher is out on US Netflix on Friday 12 October. It will be released in UK cinemas in February 2019.
|What||The Kindergarten Teacher film review|
12 Oct 18 – 12 Oct 19, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|