SXSW Film Fest, Day 2: "Prince Avalanche," "Drinking Buddies," & More

A Teacher

Director: Hannah Fidell
Stars: Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, Jennifer Prediger, Julie Dell Phillips, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek
Running time: 76 minutes
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Score: 9/10

As the old saying goes—and the prophetic Nasir Jones once turned this into a song title—no idea's original.

When it comes to storytelling, what matters is how one gets to the heart of a narrative, not the narrative itself. Case in point: Hannah Fidell's taut character study A Teacher. It's centered around a familiar concept, that of an attractive high school instructor conducting a secret love affair with one of her male students. Notes on a Scandal, much?

Yet, regardless of her script's surface-level familiarities, Fiddell's devastating knockout of a motion picture (which first caught a strong buzz during January's Sundance Film Festival) never feels rudimentary. Creating a pair of believable, honest characters, she's delivered a controlled and intricately volatile moment in time: the phase of the student/teacher relationship in which one person's sexual interest transforms into infatuation.

Ms. Diana Watts (newcomer Lindsay Burdge in a powerhouse turn) is an Austin, TX, high school English teacher whose obsession with likable hunk Eric (the equally strong Will Brittain) is leaving her in a perpetual state of on-the-verge internal combustion. Fidell takes full advantage of Burge's dynamite face, keeping the camera fastened on Burge's reaction to news of a freshman female's recently discovered, topless camera phone pic (which brings to mind a photo Watts took for Eric). Burge conveys near eruption without so much as blinking.

As A Teacher swiftly moves towards its intelligent and downbeat resolution, Fiddell captures a mood that's reminiscent of Michael Haneke's similarly dour The Piano Teacher—and that's one lofty compliment. Once her film receives its Labor Day release via Oscilloscope Laboratories, you'll appreciate the comparison.

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