“The Kindergarten Teacher” ( “Haganenet”)
A new Israeli film by Nadav Lapid is the story of a kindergarten teacher who discovers in a five year-old child a prodigious gift for poetry. Amazed and inspired by this young boy, she decides to protect his talent in spite of everyone.
Nira, the teacher, becomes at first enchanted and then ultimately consumed by the poetic genius of her five-year-old student, Yoav. As the titular protagonist, Nira, discovers that her young student, Yoav, has a talent for language and poetry so she slowly and progressively becomes interested in cultivating the child’s gift. However, fascination becomes obsession and Nira pushes the boundaries of her relationship with the boy in an attempt to protect his primal talent before he passes from boyhood to adolescence. The brings into sharp focus the dangers of both mediocrity and passion.
Nira (Sarit Larry) is stunned when Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), her five-year-old student, announces in school, “I have a poem.” The poem consists of only five lines, but the teacher finds magic in the words that the boy has seemingly just created while walking back and forth
“Hagar is beautiful enough
Enough for me
Enough for me
Gold rain falls over her house.
It is truly the sun of god.”
The film can be seen as a representation of an Israeli society where poetic sensibility has become lost in a culture that glorifies materialism, and where even the idealistic have lost their moral compass. A strangely affecting and disturbing film, it is at times perverse but also has moments of haunting beauty.
Nira is convinced that Yoav is a poetic genius and she thinks that he is comparable in her mind to the four-year-old Mozart. She becomes obsessed with a desire to protect him from an uncaring father (Yehezkel Lazarof), a wealthy restaurant owner and Yoav’s mother who has taken off with a lover. However, Nira soon begins to cross the line between teaching the boy about life and protecting him from it. On the surface, Nira is a caring person, but the first hint that not all is right is when she passes off Yoav’s poems as her own in her weekly poetry class.
Nira is the mother of two grown children and we see her as a woman who is satisfied with her work—she loves children. But then we see her around Yoav and something is amiss when show that her inner life is unsteady. The Israel we see in the film is one of everyday melancholia, not the one of ravages of perennial war. The threat here is, precisely, what one is left with in moments of peace, “a kind of asphyxiation by the banality of the quotidian”. There are no bombings, guns, or external turmoil, instead “we see jokes on television shows, silly tourists dancing in unison in hotel swimming pools, arrogant men acting as though they were immune to life’s ills, and women so trivially sad they might not recognize their own misery.”
Nira sees in Yoav a lyrical escape from her ordinary life: a decent husband, a couple of children, and a job that pays the bills. Somewhere between a genius and a psychic, Yoav has the uncanny tendency to recite original poetry whenever the inspiration hits him. His nanny, a struggling actress who uses the child’s poetry in auditions as if she’d written it, is always nearby to jot everything down. As Nira realizes that Yoav is in a tenuous position and she identifies with his poetry and manages to find a way into his life. There is perversity behind Nira’s maternal impulses, as well as the way that it suggests a love affair between woman and child. Nira finds Yoav odd but that is what makes him so fascinating. We do not see or sense sexual abuse here. We are to see an act of helping as never separate from an act of robbing—as if good will were always a deceitful reward for the self. Nira faces her obsession and she sees it as if she is being called to it.
“The Kindergarten Teacher” paints a portrait of a country where people begin their day already exhausted, human relations are severed, and poetry is borne out of the body, a place where nothing conspires toward the beautiful. Everything is spent and falling in love with a child, in this context, is less a descent into madness than an exiting out of the madness of life that becomes tolerable through a surreal detour.