The title character of “The Country Teacher” isn’t from the country at all, although he’s got a new job there. Mopey Peter has just moved from Prague to a small village, the better to escape his life.
The reason Peter left the city, the major weakness of this otherwise well-produced Czech film, is a “secret” feebly teased out for the first half-hour or so. This is especially true since few people will go to this movie without already knowing that Peter’s homosexuality is at issue.
Peter, played by reflective, bespectacled Pavel Liska, settles into his new life, fending off the romantic interest of a friendly farm woman (Zuzana Bydzovska). She’s older than Peter and has the stark features and red hair of the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga” paintings.
Nevertheless, she becomes a maternal figure to the younger Peter, which makes sense, as she has a teenage son, Lada, of her own. Peter’s feelings for Lada stay bottled up until one inappropriate moment, which represents a fairly serious rupture of the little rural scene that’s been unfolding.
Liska gives an intense performance as the teacher, although putting this kind of sad sack at the center of a movie makes it difficult for the whole thing to take flight. When his ex-lover visits the village to find out what his former friend is up to, he’s so much more energetic and boisterous (even while being a jerk) that you can’t help becoming curious about his story.
And the tale of a closeted gay man coming to terms with telling the rest of the world about his orientation feels stale. Not that such situations aren’t still happening all the time, but the movies have kind of been here already.
What keeps this interesting is the great eye of director Bohdan Slama, who (like most Czech filmmakers, it seems) has absolutely marvelous skills with the camera. Most scenes play out in a single shot, and whether Slama is looking across an outdoor party at night or craning up to see what a lazy afternoon looks like from the top of a haystack, he communicates a real sense of being there.
It ends with, alas, a cliche of the rural movie, a scene in a stable. Oh well — even talented directors can stumble across trite situations. Unfortunately, “The Country Teacher” has one too many.
“The Country Teacher” 1/2
A teacher from Prague gets a job in a village, the better to escape the tension of being a closeted gay man. This film is beautifully shot and acted, but one too many trite situations, including the stale central dilemma, keep it from completely succeeding. (In Czech, with English subtitles.)
Rated: Not rated; probably R for subject matter