From Rebel Without a Cause on, it seems that cinematic science classes — whether they involve peering down a microscope or gazing up at a planetarium panorama — more often than not serve to extend rather clunky metaphors for the inner cosmos of the protagonist. This is glaringly and consistently true of the Czech writer-director Bohdan Sláma’s The Country Teacher, wherein the instructor and the protagonist are one and the same. In a lecture of his, Petr (Pavel Liska), who has taken a job in a rural community after a stint at a prestigious Prague prep school, celebrates the uniqueness of every snail shell, observing, “Diversity is sometimes a trap and sometimes a gift. It depends on what we do with it.” In another scene he speaks to his students of the worker bee, a creature that has no desire to reproduce, just the will to work.
It should come as no surprise given this particular prospectus that not far into The Country Teacher we learn that Petr has fled the big city in the wake of a rocky affair, and that that affair was with another man. Ashamed of himself and his sexuality, Petr hopes to lose himself in his lesson plans while using his idle hours to bask in the glories of nature. (He is prone to napping on large piles of hay.) Sláma and cinematographer Divis Marek let the pastoral setting of The Country Teacher play out in extremely long, beautifully orchestrated takes; even the more ridiculous classroom scenes, populated by uniformly attentive and good-humored pupils, take on a residual pleasantness with this fluid approach.
The singing birds, chirping insects, and lowing cows are gradually drowned out in the narrative’s somewhat desperate push forward, though. Of course Petr’s purely pedagogical mission is quickly interrupted when he falls for the angsty Lada (Ladislav Sedivy), the son of local cow herder Marie (Zuzana Bydzovska), who herself develops feelings for Petr. Sláma’s remarkably patient and confident filmmaking in The Country Teacher is enough to make you wish the film displayed a corresponding gracefulness in telling its story of the forging of an unconventional family.