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Students learn where power lies

  • 29 November 2017


The Teacher (M). Director: Jan Hrebejk. Starring: Zuzana Mauréry. 103 minutes

When misused power remains unchallenged, it is the most vulnerable who suffer most. The truism finds acerbic embodiment in the Slovak-Czech black comedy The Teacher, whose setting in 1983 communist-ruled Czechoslovakia provides a historical backdrop that doubles as an analogy for any socio-political context where power can be a means to personal ends.

It opens in a classroom, where new teacher Mária Drazdechová (Mauréry) instructs her young students to stand and introduce themselves. Oddly, 'Comrade' Drazdechová asks each student to state not only their name but also what their parents do for a living, which facts she jots in a notebook. Her charges, eager to please teacher, are blithely forthcoming.

Cut to a year later, and to a meeting of the students' parents, who are debating the professional fate of the teacher — who, it seems, is also chairperson of a local Communist group. Something dire has occurred in recent months to bring Drazdechová's sojourn to a head. The Teacher unpacks that drama through terse dialogue and flashbacks.

It quickly becomes apparent that she has been trading children's grades for parents' favours. In this, she exploits sympathy for her status as the widow of a deceased Communist officer, as much as her ability to manipulate her students' academic outcomes. Broadly, students score well when their parents can afford, or are willing, to succumb to her bribes.

And broadly, it is the parents of students who have scored well in tests that are her fiercest defenders during the meeting. But there is also a silent majority, seemingly reluctant to speak up one way or the other until they know which way the chips are going to fall. Amid the bickering between a few complainants and defenders, The Teacher builds suspense around these silent others.

The lines of sympathy do not run cleanly. Drazdechová's fiercest opponent is a former pro wrestler whose parenting style, and confrontations with Drazdechová, are marked by verbal and threatened or actual physical violence. Another father, concerned for his daughter's academic and personal wellbeing, has attempted to fulfil an illegal request that is well above his paygrade.


"The truly powerless, and unequivocally sympathetic, figures in all of this are the children, whose present and future wellbeing lie at the feet of these grown-ups and their power games."


The truly powerless, and unequivocally sympathetic, figures in all of this are the children, whose present and future wellbeing