The Lesson

 

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This drama set in Bulgaria sees a teacher of English possessed of strong moral certainties being taught a lesson by life itself.

 

This is a promising first feature for its co-directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchinov, but they also wrote it and the weakness of The Lesson is that it seems to change from one kind of a film into another. There is a more successful change of direction in its subject matter: the film plunges in tellingly with a classroom scene in which, with the sound of chalk on the board preceding any visual, the words written up reveal the theft of a pupil’s wallet. The film’s central figure - the teacher Nadezha admirably played by Margita Gosheva – is determined to identify the culprit. But while that remains relevant the film soon put its main focus on Nadezha’s private life. She discovers that the house where she lives with her husband and child is to be claimed by the bank because her unsatisfactory husband has failed to keep up the mortgage payments.

 

 Lesson, The

 

Initially Nadezha’s attempts to find money to pay off the debt bring to mind Two Days, One Night, made by the Dardenne brothers: both works cover a desperate day or two, both are slow and minimalistic and both feature a heroine whose actions can sometimes be criticised even though she retains our sympathy (here, for example, Nadezha allows her anger over her father’s new companion to cut off a potential source of help). But when she turns instead to an unscrupulous moneylender the story, albeit triggered by a dramatic real-life event, pursues a melodramatic course which causes you to feel that it is the writers who are conspiring against her. The absolute realism of the first half (tellingly there is no music) accentuates this being at odds with the contrivances that follow and smack more of fiction than of fact. Add to that the fact that the concluding scene, although more subtle than a comparable point made in Robert Guédiguian’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011), is also less satisfying. The Lesson is never less than interesting but it is uneven. 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  
Cast: Margita Gosheva, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov, Milena Ilieva.

 

Dir Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, Pro Magdelena Ilieva, Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov, Konstantina Stavrianou and Rena Vougioukalou, Screenplay Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, Ph Krum Rodriguez, Pro Des Vanina Geleva, Ed Petar Valchanov, Costumes Kristina Tomova.


Abraxas Film/Graal Films/Little Wing/Screening Emotions-New Wave Films.
111 mins. Bulgaria/Greece/Germany. 2014. Rel: 4 December 2015. Cert. 15.