Bad Teacher

(A Night Too Young world premiered at the 2012 Berlinale and has its North American premiere at the LAFilmFest, with screenings on Sunday June 17th and Monday the 18th.)

The evocative opening shot of a fire breaking out inside a dark house may or may not be a dream. Czech director Olmo Omerzu’s A Night Too Young is a strange, brooding little film, difficult to contextualize: its narrative coils in on itself, holding onto its mystery but glowing with tantalizing clues about its characters’ drives and motivations.

Omerzu cuts from the fire to a young man, Stepan, waking up on a train; his friends Katerina and David are arguing about whether David will spend time with her when they get home. The exact relationships of the characters are never made clear, but the dynamic of David pushing Stepan on an angry and unwilling Katerina is established.

Meanwhile, two 12-year-olds go sledding and talk about sex the way boys do, acting like they know more than they know, calling each other a fag, fighting and getting over it. They cross paths with the trio from the first scene, and Katerina, who seems to be their schoolteacher, gets them to go buy vodka for her, so David won’t have an excuse to disappear into a pub.

Omerzu’s approach to filmmaking is more about describing a world and its dynamics of power and attraction than just moving a narrative forward. The scene of the kids buying liquor is richly drawn, with the bitter and beleaguered shopkeeper ready to kick them out until his ne’er-do-well buddies, amused by the perversity of kids buying liquor “for their mom,” call him a pussy.

Back at Katerina’s apartment, the adults show a troubling lack of boundaries and good judgment—David just laughs when one boy grabs and downs a shot of vodka; Katerina offers them snacks instead of sending them home to their parents. A game of Mortal Kombat echoes the fire imagery from the opening scene. “First I pre-kill you,” says one of the boys, “Then I can rip off your head or your spine, or barf fire on you.” “Can I try?” replies Stepan. “I want to barf fire on him [David] too.” The scene beautifully segues to a sequence of the adults dancing erotically to an Underworld track, as the sound effects of the video game, which the boys are still playing, suggest a violent emotional subtext. Stepan is driven by a volcanic desire for Katerina, but he’s like a child himself, and she treats him like one.

A cop shows up at the door, warning them to turn down the music; Katerina invites him in and eventually takes him to bed, because, she says, “You’re the only one that listened to me today.” But the nice-guy cop soon turns violent, possibly sensing a kind of masochism in Katerina. David offers an exasperated Stepan some dubious advice that sheds light on the fears that drive his own behavior: “Some guy is always interested. You gotta wait your turn and be okay about it. That is, if you want to keep your cool, my friend. If you don’t want them to f**k you over at will.” Stepan’s fiery thoughts and paranoid fantasies eventually culminate in the film’s most notorious scene, which I won’t spoil.

David could be Satan himself, totally cynical, smug and manipulative. Katerina somehow desperately wants him, and he constantly pushes her away—without ever walking away completely. She fumes with resentment, but there also seems to be an understanding between them that on some level it’s all a game.

The acting is outstanding across the board. Natalie Rehorova’s performance is smoldering: she shifts from exuding maternal warmth toward the boys to directing glowering eye-poison at David; when she decides to challenge him at his own game she turns sly, seductive, predatory.

The level of emotional violence is brutal and the two young boys feel it intensely: one of them becomes physically ill; the other starts getting teary when things get pointedly vicious. “Don’t cry,” David warns him. A Night Too Young is not a film you can quite pin down, but its central theme has to do with the twisted games that stand in for intimacy in the lives of adults, and the horror of understanding in the eyes of kids about to enter that world.

— Paul Sbrizzi

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