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The Teacher (2023)

-Written by Kyle Bain


2024 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW!


When The Teacher, Basem (Saleh Bakri), inserts himself into the struggles of a nation he finds that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. While he aims to keep his ventures secret from those closest to him, that will prove to be more difficult than expected. Basem’s life is in danger, and the trouble is only just beginning. 


Writer-Director Farah Nabulsi sets the tone immediately with music that can only be described as somber and harrowing. Viewers are never given the opportunity for hope or joy–as the precedent is set immediately, expressing to viewers that this will be a painstakingly emotional journey from beginning to end. The Teacher maintains that level of intensity throughout, and even when there are moments of civility, moments that one might even consider serene, it’s clear the terror that lurks just around the corner, preparing to attack at any moment. This feeling persists, and viewers are forced to remain on edge throughout the duration of The Teacher


Basem garners respect like some of the most powerful characters in cinema–and like the tone that Nabulsi sets for viewers in the opening seconds, just moments later Bakri establishes this for viewers as well. The Teacher wastes no time setting expectations, as it quickly develops a tone and introduces characters in a way that allows viewers to see beneath the surface. 


Everything that comes of The Teacher is established in the opening minutes–the rest simply follows suit. Nothing comes as a surprise after the introduction of the tone and each of the characters; Nabulsi even expresses, through one unique quote, what is to happen by the end of the film. She foreshadows nearly the entire film with one line: “...do apricots survive the winter?” To this a character responds simply “no.” We now know what to anticipate, we know what is to come for Basem and those surrounding him. And Nabulsi’s aggressive dive into the meat of the film so early is both good and bad. 


Again, viewers know what to expect, and they are able to settle in quickly. However, Nabulsi doesn’t give us much reason to remain focused, as we essentially know what is going to transpire before The Teacher concludes. It’s a riveting story, and the necessary content is present throughout the entirety of the film–but effectively knowing what is coming next doesn’t give us much reason to stick around. What Nabulsi accomplishes in the opening moments of the film is astonishing, and I’m honestly not sure that I’ve seen a film before that establishes itself so quickly. Again, however, with that said–once we are entitled to this plethora of information, there isn’t always enough to keep us engaged. 


The Teacher’s saving grace is its sound design. While The Teacher is far from a horror film, the sound design allows the film to exist in this space to a degree. Sound Designer Ben Baird chooses to have the sound effects of this film be slightly louder than normal–while still allowing them to feel natural. By using sound in this way, Baird allows viewers to remain on edge–and it gives them a reason to remain focused on the film, even with the abundance of information we are given at the film's start. 


And, with all of that, I thoroughly enjoyed The Teacher. Being a teacher myself, it was easy for me to connect with Basem–but Nabulsi does a stellar job of ensuring that this connection is more than that of teachers, and I was able to connect with him on a personal level as well. The Teacher truly can entertain from beginning to end, but there will be viewers (including myself from time to time) who will continuously ask “why?” when we already know how the film will play out. Specific details remain hidden, but the gist of the film is understood early on–and it will certainly make it difficult for many viewers to remain present until The Teacher’s conclusion. 


Written & Directed by Farah Nabulsi. 


Starring Saleh Bakri, Imogen Poots, Muhammad Abed Elrahman, etc. 


7.5/10 = WORTH RENTING OR BUYING


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