Starring: Margita Grozeva, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov
English teacher Nadezhda (Gosheva) works extra hours to keep her family going, and after a theft by one of her students she is determined to catch the culprit to teach them a lesson in right and wrong. After a visit from the bailiffs she receives the surprising news that her house is about to be repossessed, and is forced to take increasingly desperate measures to keep her house and family going, while this intertwines with the incidents of theft at her school she is left questioning the principles she teaches her students.
Sometimes the films that are fundamentally quite simple are the most engaging, and this is in no way meant in a derogatory way, but the simplicity lies in their raw and straight forward presentation of the story and its characters. This then reveals a very personal story with relatable characters in realistic situations making the audience immediately question what they would do in that same given situation. In a similar fashion to the best work of Ken Loach or the Dardenne Brothers, The Lesson does indeed tell its story in a simple way, but it is this that makes it so deeply engaging and often brings about genuine tension, leading to an unforgettably involving experience.
Co-writer-directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov are very much in charge of their film, and they intentionally just throw us straight into the life of the protagonist, and we are told just enough to know about her life and how it will affect the following couple of weeks that the narrative takes place in. It is also refreshing to see filmmakers treat the audience with respect know that we are intelligent enough to make our own conclusions about characters. We are not given any patronising exposition, but we learn about all the important aspects of Nadezhda’s life as the narrative develops, making both the story and her character all the more engaging. She is also presented as a normal person with the flaws that we all show, but doing what she can to keep her family going and live an honest life, but it is this that makes her such an engaging protagonist that we route for and can relate to. A few scenes involving her father prove to be quite revealing, and though some may find her actions in these scenes extremely frustrating, they are justified and consistent with her personality traits.
As Nadezhda faces some very harsh and cruel challenges that threaten to completely change the life she knows, we cannot help but ask ourselves the question of what we would do in her situation. What happens may not be much in the grand scheme of everything, but in the context of the narrative and its main characters it is potentially tectonic and life changing, and Grozeva and Valchanov depict this in such an intentionally raw way that the film truly does grab the audience by the scruff of the neck at times and we truly share the desperation that Nadezhda experiences.
There is no dramatic score to tell us how we should feel, and the camera predominantly remains static, we are just presented with a story in an honest and natural way, and for me the directors should be commended for this approach as The Lesson is far more involving and unforgettable because of it. It is a masterful execution in depicting raw, powerful and involving drama, and there are many moments of genuine tension, but most importantly this tension is never forced upon us, the power of the story is enough. Fancy visual techniques certainly have their place, but often the two most important aspects as to what makes a great film is simply being given a character to genuinely route for, and we cannot help but genuinely care about what happens to Nadezhda.
As Nadezhda Margita Grozeva is exceptional and gives a suitably understated performance. We are given enough backstory to know she has always been a pragmatist and a hard worker whole has always lived a moral and principled life. Grozeva captures perfectly the increasing anguish and desperation her character experiences, but depicts the way Nadezhda always internalises her emotions perfectly. We can see the desperation and disbelief in her eyes, but yet she always stays calm on the surface. This exceptional performance only makes for an even more engaging protagonist.
As Nadezhda’s situation gets increasingly desperate the tension builds and some may claim that an act in the film’s final third is too extreme, but this is an individual pushed to extremes by so many factors out of her control that seem to work against her so it is believable in this context. Some may also claim the plot is a little contrived as so many coincidences occur simultaneously, and though there is admittedly some coincidence, I am sure we have all had days or weeks were a lot of things just seem to go against us through no fault of our own, and this is exactly what happens to Nadezhda over the course of a couple of weeks. Unfortunately when compiled together they are potentially life changing.
For me film is at its very best when it tells human drama and just tells a great story without resorting to flash techniques, and The Lesson is one of the most gripping and involving human dramas of 2015 from its start to its extremely appropriate and satisfying conclusion.
A supremely well-made and acted drama that tightly grips the audience from the start and refuses to let go until the end; The Lesson is quite simply just great storytelling in portraying genuine tension that gradually rises with a subtle but deeply effective approach, and is one of the best films of 2015.
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