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New Release Review - THE LESSON

A teacher's attempts to pay off her husband's debt leads her to take increasingly desperate measures.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov

Starring: Margita Gosheva, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov, Ivanka Bratoeva


"It's when the script injects a blunt plot contrivance that The Lesson veers from social realism to genre fare as Nade's predicament escalates rapidly but implausibly, and while the climax is said to be inspired by a real incident, it's simply too hard to swallow as presented here."




There's a Mickey Rooney movie from 1950 called Quicksand. Directed by Irving Pichel, it's far from the fun romp you might expect from Rooney - it's a B crime picture in which his character is so desperate to take a swell broad on a date that he borrows $20 from his employer. The employer is unaware of this of course, and Rooney soon finds his situation spiralling out of control as his debt increases at every turn and he becomes involved with nasty criminal types. It's an effective little picture until it reaches a point where Rooney's troubles start to take a ridiculous turn. The same issue afflicts new Bulgarian drama The Lesson, which shares a similar plotline with Quicksand, and also impresses until it reaches a point where it all becomes far too contrived and implausible.
The Lesson's beleaguered protagonist is schoolteacher Nade (Margita Gosheva), who discovers during class that one of her pupils has stolen money from her purse, and an interrogation of her class fails to draw a culprit. It may only be a few quid that's been pilfered, but we soon learn that every penny counts for Nade, who moonlights for a translation service company, one which seems suspiciously reluctant to actually pay her for her work. Her wastrel husband, Mladen (Ivan Barnev), isn't much help; his attempt to raise money by selling the family RV collapses when the vehicle refuses to start. But it's when a representative of the bank arrives with a threat of repossessing their home that things really turn bad for Nade, Mladen and their young daughter.
This makes for a gripping second act in which Nade juggles various attempts to assemble the funds necessary to keep her home, taking out a loan from a decidedly sleazy money-lender, planning to pay it back when she finally gets paid for her translation work. Few audience members will fail to sympathise with Nade's plight, and many will identify with it. A piece of pretty bureaucracy that leads Nade to scrounge for two Lev (roughly one Euro or dollar) to pay a bank transaction fee she hadn't counted on is particularly blood-boiling. Forced to cast off her dignity, Nade rolls up her sleeves and fishes change from a public fountain.
All this is highly resonant and impactful stuff, helped immensely by a stunning performance from Gosheva, one that's reminiscent of Marion Cotillard's turn in last years similarly themed drama Two Days, One Night, but with added Eastern European stoicism. With so much talk of a lack of strong roles for women, here's one who has been let down by the men in her life, and definitely wears the trousers in her threatened home. It's when the script injects a blunt plot contrivance that The Lesson veers from social realism to genre fare as Nade's predicament escalates rapidly but implausibly, and while the climax is said to be inspired by a real incident, it's simply too hard to swallow as presented here.
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