Originally published on April 9. A Teacher is in theaters in New York and Los Angeles today and is available on VOD.
A Teacher is a tense, unflinching piece of film that gets under your skin and refuses to let go. It's the tightly drawn portrait of Diana (Lindsay Burdge), a young high school teacher who is having an illicit affair with her all-too-appealing student Eric (Will Brittain).
We are dropped into the affair without knowledge of its origins. Automatically, the stakes and the tension of the situation are apparent, as we watch Diana try to balance her day to day life--teaching, running, interacting with her roommate and being set up with terrible guys her own age. Her interactions with Eric amount to secret rendezvous in the backseat of cars, homes where roommates or relatives are absent, and the urgency between the two is palpable. Inevitably, the relationship -- and Diana -- fall apart. Written and directed by Hannah Fidell, the film is sexy, scary and heart-grippingly tense. She masterfully navigates the unraveling of a woman weighed down by her choices, yet she does not does judge those choices.
I spoke with director/writer Hannah Fidell, star Lindsay Burdge and producer Kim Sherman about the film, women on the verge and their inspirations.
Women and Hollywood: You mentioned in the post-film Q&A is that you wanted to do a portrait of a woman on the verge. What attracted all of you to that?
Hannah Fidell: I realized that the films I enjoyed watching were films like that. Opening Night by Cassavetes, The Piano Teacher by Michael Haneke and other films of that nature. So, I thought why not make a movie that I would want to watch.
Lindsay Burdge: I'm drawn to movies with strong female characters. She's not strong, she's kind of falling apart, but it was great to hone in on one character and her head. For me that's a gratifying film experience. So, when Hannah told me about it, I was interested. It's hard to find roles where you can throw yourself into it.
Kim Sherman: Specifically, I felt like Hannah did a really great job in taking something that we had seen a million times in different films, and could be sensationalized in the wrong hands. I loved the way the story was structured. The beginning point, after the romance had already begun, and we were really dealing with the psychology of what was happening. And that specific woman rather than the overall taboo of the relationship. I felt like that was a lot more relatable and an almost experimental way to tell the story.
WaH: Kim, how did you come to be involved in the project?
KS: I came to the project through friends who had worked with Hannah on her short film A Gathering Squall. They were actually my Missouri-based collaborators. They mentioned that Hannah was looking for production help with A Teacher because she was the main producer as well as the writer and director and she wanted to take the producing hat off for a while. We started working together in pre-production and it went really well, so she asked me to stay on as a main producer with her through the project.
WaH: Women on the verge stories tend to have a weird built-in judgment of the character. The way that you told the story, we understand that Diana's choices are obviously not great, but you left the audience to come to their own conclusions.
HF: That was very much on purpose. I think I came to that in two ways. First, I wrote this story from the perspective of what would have to happen for me to find myself in the situation that Diana finds herself in. And, also, looking at the films I enjoy, not to reference Haneke too much, but the way that he draws in viewers and in a way forces them to identify with the protagonist no matter what they are doing interests me because it's different. That style of film-making and storytelling breaks convention. I think it also creates a non-passive viewing experience when you find yourself so actively, not necessarily relating to the character, but being in the character's head.
WaH: Lindsay talk about how you came at the character.
LB: Hannah and I did research and read some case studies so we did get into the psychology a bit. When Hannah told me the idea, I could imagine that happening. Also, I feel like a lot of the emotions that Diana goes through are very relatable. It's what's so brilliant about what Hannah did. It's this topic that is kind of a hot button, but the journey, the emotions I feel are relatable.