Combustible Celluloid
With: Dov Tiefenbach, Leslie Hendrix, Aurora Leonard, Tibor Feldman, Kate Eastman, Tyler Hollinger, Ramon Nuñez, Yan Xi
Written by: Hanan Harchol
Directed by: Hanan Harchol
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 112
Date: 04/10/2020

About a Teacher (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Chalk Wave

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by the real Hanan Harchol, based on his own experiences, this sometimes awkward, but ultimately earnest and moving drama ultimately transcends the usual "teacher movie" cliches.

In About a Teacher, musician Hanan Harchol (Dov Tiefenbach) decides it's time for a steady job, and accepts a position teaching film at a New York public school for the arts. At first, it goes horrifically bad, with Mr. Harchol unable to control his students or get them to listen, and bringing his stress home and waking up with nightmares. He asks the advice of fellow teachers, and tries many approaches, all of which fail.

His superior, Ms. Murry (Leslie Hendrix) keeps calling him into her office to chastise him about his failings, and to harangue him about the school's myriad of required paperwork. Finally he speaks to Ms. Martinez (Aurora Leonard), who asks him, "do you like your students? Do you talk to them?" Mr. Harchol eventually figures out what she means, and things start to change.

Clearly inspired by the school of documentary-like realism, About a Teacher is plain-looking, too long, and with too much needless shaky camerawork. It sometimes reaches too far, as in Mr. Harchol's regular lunches with his father. Characters are sometimes short-changed, such as one student who does nothing but put on her makeup in class. But through it all, the movie really does build toward something positive and touching.

Tiefenbach gives an honest performance, and when he connects with a student, his joy and relief is palpable. The students come to life as well, as we begin to hear their matter-of-fact stories, a character that has a daughter at home and works two jobs, or a character whose mother's boyfriend beat her, or a troublemaker that eventually becomes the class's top student.

Harchol provides many rich details, from the insane school policies and paperwork to things like a missing camera; none of these are used for melodrama, but simply to reveal more about the situation. Ultimately, About a Teacher is a relevant, and even necessary movie about making connections where connections seem impossible.

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