The Kindergarten Teacher is a strange Israeli import that’s not as enthralling or as inspirational as it would like you to believe it is. As center is Nira (Sarit Larry), an aging and lonely kindergarten teacher that becomes enthralled by a young boy in his class, Joav (Avi Shnaidman) who writes beautiful, yet tragically profound poetry. This leads Nira to make some terrible decisions along the way in an attempt to elevate Joav amongst poetry circles in an uncaring world.
The camera begins in the point-of-view of Nira behind her husband (Lior Raz) as he watches the news. Twice he hits the camera, shaking it; I’m not entirely sure what this gesture is supposed to mean, but maybe director Nadav Lapid thought it would go unnoticed or perhaps was aiming for a Brechtian moment. Nevertheless, this scene sets up the rest of the film – thematically shaky and artistically pretentious. Either way, Nira doesn’t appear very happy, with the film exploring feelings through a very visually sparse mise-en-scene.
The beautiful Miri (Estar Rada) is Joav’s babysitter actress that dutifully picks up her charge everyday after school. Nira has come across a poem composed by Joav entitled Hagar, which is so enigmatic that Nira wonders how such a young boy could compose such a complex work about beauty and pain. As things progress we begin to learn more about Joav’s homelife, as it is. His father, Amnon Pollak (Yehezkel Lazarov), is largely absent, busy with his two restaurants and bar. His mother, Joav claims, is dead – this is a lie as she really ran away to Boston with her lover.
Nira takes Joav’s poem to her poetry club, passing it off as her own, not only to get an affirmation that this kid indeed is an untapped talent, but also to receive a little love and positive affirmation for herself. Soon Nira begins talking more about Joav to Miri, who then confesses to co-opting Joav’s poem as well for an acting scene in her class.
When Joav comes up with another poem Nira once again writes this one down and passes it off as her own to the poetry club. The assignment for that week was to write a poem about the observable world; Joav’s poem is about a matador. Subsequently, Nira is quickly chastened by her classmates for not following the lesson plan. Her professor, however, lauds what he feels is her bold insubordination. Nira soon becomes the “author” of the poems while Joav “ghostwrites” and little happens after this until the third act, minus some gratuitously unsettling and loveless sex scenes, where everything seems to go inexplicably south for some nonsensical reason.
Nira does not care about fulfilling a mother figure for Joav, but instead exploits him for his talents. I have no issue with despicable characters, as long as they’re interesting or compelling, but there’s nothing of the sort here. Even Joav is an empty vessel that has no understanding of his own talents – a bad choice when you are trying to attach gravity to poetry, or art for that matter.
The Kindergarten Teacher is a huge disappointment, making a meager attempt to tell its story through languid direction and a despicable protagonist. It tries to make an argument for poetry and the spoken word as dying parts of culture while desperately reaching for depth, yet feels shallow and unclear, instead pointlessly meanders on the human condition. A baffling third act wraps everything up arbitrarily and all of it’s faux-intellectual snobbiness wears thin, leaving little but a shell of pointless narrative. Ultimately, the film’s lack of cohesiveness exploits intellectualism, leaving viewers abandoned and wondering what the hell just happened.