Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Passing for Straight?

School may be out for summer in many places, but The Country Teacher is just going to work. This Czech film about a sexually conflicted educator is scheduled for limited release on June 5 from Film Movement.

It doesn’t take long for viewers to realize that new teacher Peter (a good performance by Pavel Liska) is a mysterious and possibly troubled man. We learn he was on the faculty of a prestigious academy in Prague before suddenly resigning and relocating to a remote village. Given his credentials, he is quickly hired by the local principal, who doesn’t ask many questions about Peter’s past.

A natural sciences teacher, Peter imparts to his pupils such lessons as “When we understand nature, we can better understand ourselves” and “Diversity is sometimes a trap, and sometimes a gift; it depends on what we do with it.” More privately, he questions the existence of God.


Peter takes a room on a farm owned by Marie (the interesting actress Zuzana Bydzovska), where she lives with her rebellious teenaged son (Ladislav Sedivy). At Marie’s encouragement, Peter takes her son under his wing as a tutor. Peter gradually develops an interest in her son that isn’t exactly professional.

While the basic storyline of The Country Teacher is sometimes predictable, it also takes a number of surprising turns. Of note is Peter’s relationship with his parents, and how his openness with them differs from his openness with contemporaries. He is also more out to his father initially than to his mother, which is fairly unique in the annals of gay cinema. Peter goes through a lot as he strives toward greater integrity, and he puts Marie and her son through a lot too. The film’s final scene is a nice moment of reconciliation and rebirth between the three of them.

The Country Teacher is written and directed by Bohdan Slama, an accomplished filmmaker but not well-known outside of Europe. Slama has a good eye for both lyrical settings and the emotional damage wrought by repressed sexuality. (Click here to watch the trailer for The Country Teacher.)


Also scheduled for theatrical release on June 5 is The Art of Being Straight, from Regent Releasing/here! The movie will also be available for viewing starting that day on here! Networks. It is the debut feature of young writer-director Jesse Rosen, who also plays the film’s confused protagonist, Jon.

Having recently broken up with his girlfriend for undisclosed reasons, Jon moves from Boston to Los Angeles in search of a fresh start. Jon moves in with an old college buddy and finds work as an administrative assistant at an advertising agency.

Jon says he’s straight and his behavior seems to support this, but things get complicated when his gay boss, Paul (Johnny Ray Rodriguez), takes an interest in him. At the same time, Jon’s ex-girlfriend-turned-lesbian, Maddy (the funny Rachel Castillo), finds herself falling in love with the new guy next door. Are these young adults trying to define themselves truly gay? Truly straight? Bisexual? None of the above?


Rosen’s inexperience as a film director shows at times, especially during the movie’s murkily-shot and/or confusingly-edited sex scenes, but his writing and acting are fine. Indeed, everyone in the cast is quite good.

In the press notes for The Art of Being Straight, Rosen says “I made this film because there wasn’t a movie that I could relate to in terms of my own experiences and the experiences of many others in my generation; Discovering your sexuality is not supposed to be about trying to decide into which box to fit despite what we tend to learn.”

While being straight or gay might not be an art, both of these films show that trying to figure ourselves out as human, sexual beings certainly remains a dramatic and — at times — entertaining endeavor. (Click here to watch the trailer for The Art of Being Straight.)

UPDATE: The Country Teacher and The Art of Being Straight are now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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