Posted on

The Hollywood Reporter weighs in on ‘This Teacher’

Originally posted on The Hollywood Reporter

A French Arab has a breakdown during a trip to New York in Mark Jackson’s psychodrama.

A strangely provocative film balanced between social parable and psychological horror, Mark Jackson’s This Teacher watches a woman having a breakdown in a world that insists on denying its own madness. Apparently the final part in a thematic trilogy about women in mental distress — its predecessor was 2014’s Catherine Keener-led War Story — this one increases its protagonist’s stress level by making her a Muslim visiting the United States for the first time. Uncomfortable and category-defying, it will be a tough sell for marketers, who are exploiting Reed Morano’s exec producer credit in key art as “from the executive producer of The Handmaid’s Tale.” (Morano was DP on War Story.)

French actress Hafsia Herzi, who played a Libyan refugee in the previous film, here plays a French Arab named Hafsia who has just arrived in New York to visit childhood friend Zahra (Sarah Kazemy). A tomboy when they were both in Paris, Zahra has embraced a glitzy actor’s life in the States, calling herself Sarah because “it’s easier” and moving in with an older white man who’s rich.

A party on the night of Hafsia’s arrival illustrates the chasm that has opened between the friends. Heavy-lidded Hafsia (is that jet lag, contempt or depression?) barely endures party chatter in which white guys advertise their sensitivity — sometimes bizarrely, as when Zahra’s boyfriend observes how great it is that she is up for a role playing a tough Latina. (Watching her run lines later with her French accent, we see how ridiculous this prospect is.) The sequence tells us much about the characters, but may also be a weird kind of pre-empting of complaints that this story of a Muslim woman has been directed and co-written by a white dude. Whether that’s effective or not, the picture never condescends to its protagonist.

Hafsia has already complained to Zahra about feeling overwhelmed by life — too many people, too much noise — and Zahra is subconsciously recoiling, as if this vulnerability might be contagious. The two spend more time apart, and Hafsia winds up slipping away from the city, seeking isolation in a rental cabin upstate. There, her mind is free to experience its brewing turmoil in a purer way.

By this point, viewers will be anticipating various kinds of horror. Jackson’s subtle cues open the gates to everything from racism and rape to psychosis and even the supernatural; yet the suspense doesn’t feel as grab-baggy as that sounds. While his and Dana Thompson’s story should be left unspoiled for viewers, it won’t surprise anyone to hear that a solo Muslim woman in rural America — especially one whose behavior has become erratic — has edgy interactions with white folks (played memorably by Lev Gorn, Lucy Walters and Kevin Kane).

It’s hard to call this a character study, given how incoherent Hafsia’s mind has become. But Herzi makes the woman’s experience compelling through highs, lows and moments of blankness. Dialogue in her most manic moments suggests hallucinatory transcendence — she believes she has become the forest; she declares that “I am a verb. A verb.” But there’s a lot of fear in there as well, and a lack of recognition of the ways (both justified and not) she may inspire fear in others. The film’s title (an irony-laden reference to a T-shirt Hafsia wears) suggests lessons to be learned. But if any characters leave this film wiser than they were at the start, it’s an unenviable kind of growth.

A review of Abe by John DeFore – June 9th 2020

This Teacher is available now to stream on all major platforms including iTunes, Google, Vudu, and Fandango Now!

Breaking Glass Pictures acquires and directly distributes independent films in North America. We feel honored to work with so many established and up and coming filmmakers, producers and sales companies, bringing their work to the masses. The world of film distribution is complex and ever changing.

At BGP, our team has the experience and industry connections you need, to implement a far-reaching, successful release. Our vast library of over 400 feature films, including most genres, are running on the top digital platforms.

As your distribution partner, Breaking Glass Pictures will play an essential role in your film, and we take that very seriously. Our strong relationships with key providers allows us to implement successful distribution services for Digital, DVD, Theatrical and International.

If you have a film that needs distribution services contact Rich Wolff @ BGP at (215) 715-6327.