Dallas Film Fest Journal: ‘A Teacher’

Hannah Fidell’s directorial feature debut, ‘A Teacher’, is a disturbing film that has a brilliant performance from Lindsay Burdge. From the sulking score to the long camera shots, this tale of forbidden and illegal sexual desire spins out of control fast, but has a heavy psychological tone as we watch our main character descend into a steep downward spiral of madness and obsession.

Burdge plays Diana, a high school teacher who seems to be a loner outside the classroom, but once in class, opens up and is very charismatic. We’re thrown into the middle of Diana’s illicit relationship with one of her students, Eric (Will Brittain). We don’t see how it all started, but we see scene after scene of the two having sex in different places, whether it be in a car at night, Diana’s house when her roommate is out for the night, or at Eric’s parent’s ranch house near Austin, Texas.

The pair seem to have the same feelings for one another, however we only ever see the sexual relationship. We can clearly tell that Diana is emotionally stunted and needs to have some gap filled with this torrid affair. She even allows Eric to take control in the bedroom. Soon, Eric is her whole life, and she becomes very distant from her roommate and colleagues at school. When her brother comes into town, she quickly shuts down and leaves him sitting at the restaurant. It’s evident that her affair isn’t the first of its kind. When her roommate invites her to a party of people their own age, she wants to leave as soon as she gets there and spends the little time there texting Eric and looking at his pictures. Her obsession has become unhealthy.

After an explicit photo of a freshman girl posing topless makes the rounds at school, Diana becomes scared and asks Eric to delete all of the photos she has sent him. Once this happens, she begins to question herself and her actions, but still continues on. When an employee of Eric’s ranch house almost catches the two of them in the deed, Diana calls the relationship off, but her unnatural obsession and sickness cannot be controlled, which leads to some very unfavorable moments.

Fidell’s camerawork is impressive. I was reminded of Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’ during a steadicam shot from the back as Diana walks through the school and jogs completely alone. It’s very unsettling. Brittain plays the student lover very well. We never see him brag to his friends of his conquest, nor is he at all an annoying or obnoxious teenager. He’s actually quite charming, level-headed, and always plays it cool, even when things spiral out of control. Burdge does a phenomenal job in her role as she tries to box up her unnatural feelings, all the while she wears her heart on her sleeve when it comes to her young lover.

What keeps this film from greatness is its repetitiveness. It’s a slow descent into a psychotic obsession that shows the same thing in scene after scene of the two characters having sex, only in different locations. If there was a bit more character exploration, ‘A Teacher’ might have received an A. Due to its inconsistencies and flaws, it receives a C for effort and acting.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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