“The Teacher,” directed by Czech Oscar nominee Jan Hrebejk, is a sharply entertaining Bratislava-set period satire about abuses of power at the pettier levels of the communist system.
The Slovak-language comedy, screening at the Roxie, opens in a classroom in 1983.
Maria Drazdechova (Zuzana Maurery), a 40-something teacher, asks her middle-school students to introduce themselves and state their parents’ line of work. Using this information, she soon seeks favors from the parents — a free perm from a hairdresser mom, a washing-machine repair job from a mechanic dad.
If the parents comply, she gives them tips on how their children can earn high marks. If the parents won’t perform her desired tasks, as happens with an airport accountant (Csongor Kassai) she asks to smuggle a cake onto a Moscow-bound plane, she punishes their kids by giving them poor grades and verbally tormenting them.
Because comrade Drazdechova is a prominent Communist Party official, most parents are afraid, or see no reason, to say no to her.
When dark consequences stem from her methods, the nervous head teacher (Ina Gogalova) holds a meeting where parents debate whether Drazdechova should be ousted.
Initially, only a few parents sign a petition to that effect. But they move others to do likewise.
While only mildly cutting, the film amusingly lampoons and condemns the corruption and favoritism that are ingrained in the everyday operations of a society that claims to be egalitarian.
Hrebejk (who made “Divided We Fall”) deftly intercuts the first-day-of-school student scenes with the months-later parent-meeting material (reportedly inspired by “12 Angry Men”). Petr Jarchovsky’s screenplay is observant and funny.
Best, however, is Maurery, who gives the film a superb comic protagonist.
A monstrous machinator who, herself, is a victim of a crooked system, Maria Drazdechova is nuanced as well as shameless, and rather fascinating.
Starring Zuzana Maurery, Csongor Kassai, Martin Havelka, Ina Gogalova
Written by Petr Jarchovsky
Directed by Jan Hrebejk
Running time 1 hour, 42 minutes