Film Review: The Lesson

This art house film portrays an idealistic teacher of English on a slide down into a more realistic survival mode. She has to accept that ideals and principles do not butter a slice of bread. Especially not, in a cruel and corrupt country going through an economic crisis. In case you think, such a film must be boring, dreadful, pessimistic – forget it: there are plenty absurd and hilarious scenes.

Margita Gosheva plays teacher Nade, who has one of those only too familiar classes full of adolescents. Among her students is a thief. None of the kids own up, so Nade hands some money to the latest victim.

Not that Nade has money to spare. Her job does not earn her enough, so she also works as a translator in a distant town. She regularly travels by bus to the “company”, to bring and collect work, but the firm owes her money. Each week, the promise is that money will materialise the next week.

Not that this is Nade’s only headache. She also has a young daughter who adores papa. Papa is a hopeless case who is unable to support the family. He is trying to sell a camper van and “forgets” to tell Nade, he took out a loan to do so.

Thugs arrive to reposes the house. Nade is the only one who can try to prevent the family ending up on the streets. Not that daughter and husband appreciate this. At first, Nade tries to remedy the situation by taking legitimate steps. But it becomes clear, she may be the only person in the region to do things by the rules and above-board.

Nade is soon forced to swallow her pride, her principles, let go of most of her ideals. She finds out the hard way, the world is a cruel place where hypocrisy and corruption rule. In the end, even Nade is forced to take drastic measures to keep her home and job. Yet, from the moment she pays off the family debts, Nade’s down-ward spiral changes and her life improves.

There are quite a few beautiful scenes, like Nade buying two cups of coffee with her last money. One is for her mother and the other one for Nade. We see Nade putting the cup of coffee on her mother’s grave, which still has no proper headstone as Nade’s papa spends money on other things. Nade sits on her mum’s grave drinking the other coffee, while contemplating her next step.

There is the scene at Nade’s former home, where the photo of her father’s latest trollop hangs next to pictures of Nade and her mother. Nade is quite handy with a black felt pen.

Slightly later, while Nade is forced to swallow her pride several times in front of her whole family, dad’s New Age fancy girl has hysterics because her aura was blocked. As Nade’s papa splutters: “An aura is a serious thing!” The whole sequence of events had the audience in stitches. This film contains many more such absurd and hilarious scenes.

One nearly forgets the seriousness and hopelessness of Nade’s situation. She lives in a Kafkanesk country, in a Kafkanesk situation and is surrounded by too many Kafkanesk characters.

Nade’s environment is not that Eastern European, though the film is co-production by Greece and Bulgaria. Perhaps only such countries are able to produce such a hilarious take on the drama Nade faces. The two EU countries are only too familiar with the effects of an economic crisis, corruption, and poverty.

Nade’s situation is very recognisable: too many people the world over know what fore-closure and repossession mean. Though Nade’s final solution may be a bit too drastic for most, any audience will easily forgive her. As for the thief in Nade’s class: ultimately Nade does find out who it is.

The Lesson, released 2014, about 105 minutes long;
Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov – film directors
Margita Gosheva – Nade
Ivan Barnev – Nade’s husband

Though the film was released in 2014, it can still be seen in a few art house cinemas. However, despite it winning awards at for instance the Luxembourgh City Film Festival 2015, you may have to try to find its DVD release.

Youtube trailer The Lesson, 2014

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