A Country Teacher

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Venice Film Festival, Venice Days

VENICE -- A big-city natural history teacher arrives at a small rural Czech school and makes a great impression until his unresolved emotions about being homosexual threaten to ruin his life in Bohdan Slama's absorbing drama.

An intelligent story, well-crafted performances and a pleasing absence of stereotypes give the drama universal relevance and will propel the film beyond festivals and art houses in key territories.

Pavel Liska gives a warm and sensitive performance as Peter, a gifted and well-mannered but conflicted teacher who quits his job at a high-profile prep school in Prague because his mother runs the place. He has not told her of his sexual orientation and he also keeps it a secret when his new principal suggests that taking the poorly paid country job means he must be running away from something.

Gregarious in a shy kind of way, Peter befriends an older local woman, Marie (Zuzana Bydzovska) who keeps a herd of milk cows with her restless son Lada (Ladislav Sedivy). When she makes a pass at the teacher and he demurs, she assumes it's because he thinks she's too old for him.

Peter's new life is disrupted when an old lover comes to visit refusing to accept that things are finished. But it gets worse when a chance situation brings Peter's loneliness and sexual frustration to the surface and he does something he immediately regrets. How the teacher, the boy and his mother deal with this turn of events makes up the rest of the film.

Writer-director Slama uses natural history to good effect in relating the story and weaves in the woman's family background and Peter's parents. The bookish Liska underplays Peter's conflicts and changing emotions with touching conviction, and the wry Bydzovska and energetic Sedivy make telling contributions.

If the ending is too pat it also appears heartfelt, and the sense of village community the film creates is something that people in many places will relate to.

Production company: Negativ
Cast: Pavel Lilska, Zuzana Bydzovska, Ladislav Sedivy
Director, screenwriter: Bohdan Slama
Producers: Pavel Strnad, Petr Oukropec
Director of photography: Divis Marek
Production designers: Vaclav Novak, Petr Pistek, Martin Micka
Music: Vladimir Godar
Costume designer: Zuzana Krejzkova
Editor: Jan Danhel
Sales agent: Wild Bunch
Not rated, 113 minutes

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