This film manages to pull off an unusual double: it is both boring and
hellish. It is very slow, and very little happens, and most that does
happen happens several times. It is about dull people in a dull world,
doing nothing of merit or novelty.
So much for the boring aspect of it, now on to the hellish:- The job
of a psychotherapist is to convince people that they need his help in
the first place, and then to convince them if they come to him that
they are being helped by him, even if he is (as statistics
consistently reveal) not helping at all. Similarly, the job of the
teacher in this documentary is to convince the viewer that he is a
nice, patient, caring man. This way, he gets to come across well, and
the film-makers have a hero.
The teacher we see in this film and the film-makers behind the camera
are presumably sadistic uncaring bastards. Several times in this film
we see a scene in which the teacher has isolated one pupil from the
rest, and sets him up in front of the unforgiving and ever-judging
camera, and slowly pushes him and pushes him until eventually he
cracks and bursts into tears. For those who enjoy child psychological
torture porn, this is a feast. For others, imbued with some modicum of
empathy and perception, this is hellish. I wanted to step into the
picture and rescue those poor children from his vile clutches. All the
time, he is selling himself to the viewer and the child as kind and
gentle, and all the time he is anything but. The film makers do not
intervene. Instead, the camera is rock steady on its tripod,
out-staring the children, and intimidating them. All the director has
to do is wait, and he will get his golden moments of child tears.
The children in this film are not bright, or at least, not the ones
the editor has chosen to show us. Several times we see a child
picked on and humiliated for the camera. One child counts to six, and
then fails to say the next number, and the teacher asks him what they
have been working on all morning. The boy is told the answer a few
times, but still cannot repeat it. I think if I were four years old
and had a film crew, a teacher, and the rest of my class all looking
at me like that, I might too be intimidated into silence. At another
point, a boy is pushed over and bursts into tears. He is four. When
the film came out he would have been about five, when the DVD came out
he would have been about six. He was sentenced to a childhood of being
the one who was pushed over and burst into tears. A newspaper report
says that since the film came out, nine of the eleven children
featured have sued the film makers for compensation for trauma.
There is another scene in which one boy is at home trying to do his
maths homework and is having trouble. More and more members of his
family step in to try to help, and the way the scene is cut strongly
suggests that none of them can solve the one problem that the little
boy has been set. I strongly suspect that the editor has made them
look dimmer than they really were. We urban film-going intellectuals
are treated to an opportunity to laugh at the stupid rustics. Okay,
the boy is bit dim, and his family is a bit dim - I get it - but there
is no need to rub anyone's face in it.
The teacher is forever fishing for compliments, both from the pupils
and the viewers. To watch this smug man go utterly unchallenged was
near unbearable. No one questions his methods or his authority. The
parents all seem to defer to him, and to the children he is
all-knowing. The school actually has two teachers, but the second one
is almost entirely ignored. We are invited to feel sorry that the man
is retiring. I am disappointed that he wasn't sacked thirty years ago.
That he has no children of his own and is apparently single is not
investigated. There may be very good or very bad reasons for this.
I say that the people who write in other reviews that the perpetually
black-clad teacher is saintly, the school idyllic, and the film
charming, have been successfully conned. That was clearly the intent
of the film makers, and that they have succeeded with so many people
is praise-worthy in terms of film-making technique, but utterly
condemning in terms of morality.
If you hated school, as very many (most, I suspect) adults did, then
this film is a disturbing reminder of the sheer hellishness of it all.
It is reasonable to suspect that the people who chose to see a film
about school days are a sample biased towards those who liked school
and were blind to its dark side.
I can recall one shot that I enjoyed: a small boy, looking quite
content and able, driving a massive tractor on his family's farm.