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The Teacher – Glasgow Film Festival Review

The Teacher – Glasgow Film Festival Review

Basem (Saleh Bakri) is a Palestinian English teacher, trying to shepherd his young charges through life under the stifling Israeli occupation as best he can. His favourite student, closer to a surrogate son, is Adam (Muhammad Abed Elrahman), whose existence is thrown into even more chaos after his brother is killed by an Israeli settler. The Teacher sees Basem try to protect Adam from his all-too understandable and yet volcanically dangerous fury, whilst he himself gets enmeshed in a resistance plot with enormous ramifications.

Perhaps more than anything else, Farah Nabulsi’s debut movie is excellent at conveying the ambient horror of living under occupation. It’s a claustrophobic world, likely to cave in at any moment; whether via arrest, the demolition of a home, or cold-blooded murder. Living within this environment of unbearable precarity is unimaginably stressful – and although it premiered in festivals last summer, the film’s portrayal has gained even more potency in light of the post-October 7th horrors.

The exhaustion of such an untenable situation is written all over Basem’s face. When we first meet him, he’s a conciliatory figure, whose main goal is to keep Adam calm in face of trauma after trauma. But the more time we spend with him, the more we realise that Basem is speaking from experience, having had years of practice tamping down his own fury at the occupiers. In a typically moving performance, Saleh Bakri shows Basem to be a gentle man struggling to maintain his composure, wearied at the prospect of having no end in sight to this miserable limbo. When Adam asks, “After everything you’ve been through, you still believe there’ll be justice?”, the way Bakri’s voice breaks just a little when he replies “Maybe” is the single most heartbreaking moment in a movie with a fair few of them.

Unfortunately, The Teacher is beset with a number of issues which means it never quite matches up to Bakri’s wrenching lead turn. Whilst it’s usually a pleasure to see Imogen Poots, and she’s fine here, the inclusion of a romantic subplot between Basem and Poots’ British volunteer worker just plays like a distraction from the heart of the story (she’s also given a lot of the most stiff, unconvincing dialogue). On a couple of important occasions, the film uses montage as a quick shortcut to establish relationships, which makes it harder for an audience to engage in them. The flashbacks into Basem’s past are introduced in a somewhat confusing manner, at first making them hard to differentiate from the main timeline. And throughout the movie, there’s an unfortunate tendency to cut out of a scene too quicky, which undercuts some moments which could have had much more of an impact.

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Yet ultimately, none of those issues do anything to dampen the movie’s passion for the plight of the Palestinians, or to take away from the quiet power of Bakri’s performance. The Teacher may be a story a little muddled in the telling, but the quality of its anger is crystal clear.


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