THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER

Blocking. It doesn’t get talked about much, but it’s very important – and Sara Colangelo knows what she’s doing.

Increasingly obsessing over one of her students Jimmy (Parker Sevak), kindergarten teacher Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) involves herself in his life and that of Jimmy’s largely absent father. Believing he is a young prodigy, Jimmy, lacking due attention from those closest to him, infrequently and without warning delivers bouts of poetry between his other regular 5 year-old activities.

How Colangelo stages each sequence is subtle though hugely endemic to the pair’s evolving relationship and our own burgeoning sense of unease. Depicting every other character from afar or otherwise removed from our two leads, Lisa and Jimmy are crowded within the frame each time they share a moment and increasingly so as the dynamic becomes more worrisome and soon unnerving.

Their placement throughout, and more so as the largely predictable plot direction becomes markedly apparent, serves well a story and film designed to further our sense of foreboding that is recommended above and beyond this by Gyllenhaal’s supremely subtle turns. Thriving off the screenplay’s unsettling undertones and divergently comic attributes, the talented and underrated actress has here been allowed the space and scope to deliver one of her best performances to date.

In just about each and every one of her sequences Gyllenhaal manages to evince a visage as keenly familiar and heart-warmingly as any formative teacher we are likely to remember fondly. Conversely, at these same instances she greatly contributes to our nervously growing sense of anticipation at an inevitably abrupt shift in proceedings where things will be taken too far and something hits the classroom fan.

The Kindergarten Teacher’s conclusion and final moments, not unforeseeable if still affecting, play well off the alternately straightforward and morally ambiguous perceptions of nurture and child-rearing posited throughout, making for a moving, perpetually turbulent picture.

The Kindergarten Teacher screened at the Sydney Film Festival