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Since the arrival of the new teacher, Maria Drazdechova, to a Bratislava suburban school in the year of 1983, life has turned upside down for students and parents. The teacher's corrupted behavior and one of the students' suicide attempt that could be related to that matter, makes the school Principal call the students' parents for an urgent meeting that will suddenly put the future of all the families at stake. They are asked to sign a petition to move Miss Drazdechova out of the school. The teacher's high connections within the Communist Party makes everyone feel threatened, but at this point they have no choice but to make a decision: will they dare to go against Miss Drazdechova and stand up for what they believe in at any risk, or will they just remain silent and let things be?Written by
Demonstrating influence of Communist Party in the 80-ies, with corruption and power abuse as main issues. Leaves us wondering whether it really has disappeared in modern times
Saw this at the Leiden International Film Festival 2016. The exposition of characters is very original, but it confused me in the beginning and made me wonder where the story was heading. The following may serve as heads up for subsequent viewers. In alternating short scenes, we observe a school building at daylight with students, and the same building at night with parents inside. In hindsight, we see a meeting of parents as the main course, and it is precisely that meeting that carries the story line. The parallel illustrations with scenes in and out of school are necessary to bring the core message home.
Several movies from former communist countries drive the message home that corruption and power abuse is a major issue. We start getting an idea what the problem is, when the teacher in question, on her first day, asks all students what their parents do for a living. It gradually grows on us that her interest is not seeking background information about the students, very commendable if that was the case, but foremost that she is planning to make effective use of their potential.
An example: One of the fathers is said to work on the airport, and she immediately sees an opportunity to smuggle bakery to her family abroad. Later on it appears that the airport employee in question is working as a sales clerk, and has no contact at all with plane crew personnel. So he can only make a feeble attempt to hand it over to passing plane personnel. It does not work due to everyone ignoring him. He is stuck with the cake, and sees no other way out than eating it by himself and not facing the music when coming home with it. This is just an example, but serves well as an illustration what this movie is about. Said teacher uses parents and children for a variety of domestic tasks, and passes information in return which parts of their home work should be studied in depth, as an examination about that particular material can be expected the next day.
The meeting called by the school director does not progress as smoothly as planned. The majority of the parents do not dare to speak out that they feel "used" by the teacher too, or either see no harm in it "everyone does it". It all comes down to the fact that high marks for the children are very important for their future, and parents are prepared for anything to accommodate that. At first, the screenplay focuses on two families in particular, who are very outspoken they will sign the petition. We see various scenes in class and at home to illustrate the problem very thoroughly. Alas, for a considerable part of the running time these two couples are alone with their complaints, and no other parents seems prepared to follow suit. It takes some time for a few (very few) others to join in, and we hear their stories as well via scenes at home. This approach with scenes alternating between locations and protagonists works very well, and is useful for keeping our interest.
Nevertheless, the meeting falters and most parents leave without having signed the petition. Yet, a very surprising outcome is to be expected, after all (no details, no spoilers). Apart from an indictment against people in a powerful position who may abuse their official position for private purposes, it also reminds us that corruption is still a major issue in some of the former Communist countries, as can be readily derived from recent movies like Durak/The Fool (Bykov 2014), Dolgaya Schastlivaya Zhizn/A Long And Happy Life (Khlebnikov 2013) and Leviathan (Zvyagintsev 2014). Those issues are not eliminated, apparently, and we still read about power abuse, self-serving bureaucrats and other forms of corruption in contemporary newspapers. On the other hand, similar issues exist in our Western countries as well, and the fact that papers, books and movies are not so outspoken about is, cannot be construed as a reason to believe that we are very different off here. Situations like the ones demonstrated in this movie, are feasible everywhere. I think this is the central theme of this movie, letting us stay awake and not lean backwards while thinking such problems only exist in far-away countries.
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