Leeds International Film Festival – The Kindergarten Teacher

Music: Asher Goldschmitt

Director: Sara Colangelo

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lisa Spinelli who has a day job as a kindergarten teacher. She lives out a fairly banal existence but has aspirations to be a successful poet. Her attempts at poetry for her evening class in creative writing are fairly uninspired. That is until she starts to plagiarise the work of her pupil Jimmy, who she considers a child prodigy.

Parker Sevak is a revelation as Jimmy, and is at turns lucid when creating his ‘masterpieces’, but then otherwise withdrawn.  Lisa’s poetry teacher Simon (Gael García Bernal) is charismatic to the point that she has a brief fling with him until he discovers her subterfuge. 

Things start to begin to get seriously psychotic when Jimmy is taken out of Lisa’s class and, when she finds out where he is, makes the fatal flaw of taking him away against his will. Jimmy, though, is not slow and locks Lisa in the bathroom of the apartment and calls the police.

The denouement is quite open really, but we are still recovering from the shock that what initially seemed to be a healthy interest in the child’s talents become so, for want of a better term, screwed-up. This is an unpredictable film that really keeps the viewer on their toes and says a lot about how adults can get a child’s wants and needs just so wrong.

Gyllenhaal really dominates the screen, though if anything, her performance is almost understated, making her role all the more disturbing. The script and direction are very astute, giving us just enough to follow events, without forcing fear and loathing until very near the end. A powerful drama that takes some risks on the way to being a very capable adaptation of the Nadav Lapid original. Many parents may well identify this obsession for pushing their offspring into a head-spinning world of young talent, recognised perhaps too soon.

Reviewed on 10th November 2018 at Leeds Town Hall as part of Leeds International Film Festival Official Selection

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Disturbing & astute

The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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