The Teacher – Review

The Teacher It is timely that writer / director Farah Nabulsi should make her feature-length debut on the festival circuit. Her Oscar-nominated short, The Present, focuses on the seemingly impossible act of buying an anniversary gift within occupied Palestine. Her newest film, The Teacher, details occupation on an even bigger scale, from a number of voices.

The Teacher sees another collaboration with actor Saleh Bakri, as the titular educator, Basem, who teaches English classes in the West Bank. In his class are brother Yacoub (Mahmoud Bakri) and Adam (Muhammad Abed El Rahman), the former having just spent two years in an Israeli prison for simply attending a protest. But Basem has a past, one that has cost him his wife and son, and has the potential to destroy his future. As the young students’ lives converge more and more with their teacher, personal and national tragedies are exposed unflinchingly.

From the offset, we are presented with differing visuals as to what life in the West Bank is like. We see lots of beautifully scenic car journeys through small tones and winding mountain roads. We also see a buzzing city centre, packed full of life. Restaurants are open, cafes are full and markets are full of citrus-coloured produce. But we also see armed checkpoints, home raids where women and children scream in fear for their lives, and “settlers” who view some lives as less than. These moments seem swept in a dustier, colourless palette, highlighting their juxtaposition. In the opening moments, Yacoub and Adam are forced to watch their home be demolished by Israeli troops – and are then given a bill for their work. It immediately fills you with frustration and anger.

And it’s these two sentiments that carry Adam, in particular, throughout the film. He cannot begin to imagine a life where genuine justice is done. Instead, he brews on his own emotions, stirring them up into a violent rage that he cannot fully see through. In this sense, The Teacher is split into two very specific viewpoints. We have the older, wiser (yet still quietly angry) Basem and the younger, more emotional and vengeful Adam. Both are entirely understandable in their own way.

Saleh Bakri and Muhammad Abed El Rahman’s performances truly carry this film. Bakri has the most gentle, expressive eyes that betray decades of hurt. He seems genuinely torn between being a man of books and a man of action, hovering dangerously in between. El Rahman gives a fiery performance as Adam, a young man who should have the whole world at his feet but, instead, is carrying the weight of it on his shoulders. His family, his home and his sense of justice have all been viciously eroded in such a short space of time. His emotional outbursts never feel over the top. For both these characters, their devastation sits like an open wound. We do not even need the subtitles to understand their cries – grief and injustice are universal languages.

The Teacher perhaps gets a little lost as it tries to navigate a couple of sub-plots. There is a romance between Lisa (Imogen Poots) and Basem that feels unnecessary to the development of his character or the plot in general. There is also the presence of Simon Cohen (Stanley The Teacher Townsend) and his wife, who are seeking the return of their American-Israeli son, who has joined the IDF and been taken hostage by a Palestinian group. The Cohen plotline feels like it is designed to paint shades of grey amongst the wider story, but it doesn’t quite work. Not least because Townsend’s character is in cahoots with the positively vile Liberman (Paul Herzberg) who is visibly straining at his collar to go and destroy some Palestinian lives.

Sub-plots aside, this is a film that gives additional context and story to the scenes that we see unfolding on the news. It shows a West Bank that is full of life, full of hope for the future, full of people just trying to make it through another day. Farah Nabulsi artfully demonstrates how quickly all of this can be snatched away without any sense of justice or morality. It’s a horrible, cloying feeling of powerlessness that impacts both characters and viewers alike.

The Teacher is an impressive feature-length debut, telling a very worthy story at a crucial time in contemporary geo-politics. Shaped by two hugely touching performances from Saleh Bakri and Muhammad Abed El Rahman, the film avoids neatly resolved cliches to really hammer home its messaging.

The Teacher is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival. Get your tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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  1. Pingback: The Home Games nets the Audience Award at the Glasgow Film Festival 2024

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