Earnest Notes: Our Review of ‘The Violin Teacher’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 29, 2016
Earnest Notes: Our Review of ‘The Violin Teacher’

It’s difficult to figure out what fazes and doesn’t faze Laerte (Lazaro Ramos). He’s the titular character in Sergio Machado’s new movie The Violin Teacher. He finds himself commuting to a school in Heliopolis, a favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The teenage hooligans comprising the school’s patchwork of a string group doesn’t faze him as much as it frustrates him. A gun pointed at his head does the trick, as it would for anyone. It also exposes a bourgeois interior hiding under his stern mask.

It’s hard to get a perfect read on how he reacts to his new environment because I’m not sure of his context. And that might be because the film barely explores his past. Sure, it shows us his younger self through video archives. He holds on to a newspaper clipping of young Laerte, the headline boasting of the then prodigy’s talents. He also talks to his father on the phone, never meeting him nor the family he supposedly supports.

The students call Laerte “Obama Junior,” a nickname pointing to both his skin colour and his bourgeois background. It also hints to a resentment held by his lighter-skinned students, a prejudice I’d begrudge if the people bearing it aren’t so young. The nickname, lastly, engenders the idea that he can’t change them the way others have tried. It might be this realistic perspective that might bond the reluctant teacher with his equally reluctant students.

There are so many ways where portraying this character could go wrong. We as audiences have seen it before in Hollywood productions. The actor might overplay his ‘fish out of water’ card, and he can also seem too optimistic in changing the young lives under his care. Ramos wisely eschews these approaches that might make him seem like some benevolent avuncular charitable figure.

Instead he’s aware of the seemingly insurmountable task at hand yet he just wants these children to play their instruments properly. He also treats this job like, well, a job, knowing that a teacher can’t be always there for his students. Besides he has his own ambitions. Teaching is his temporary position before re-auditioning with the Sao Paulo orchestra, a chance that we see him previously choking on.

Although the film eventually makes it difficult for him to turn his back on the students. Sure, there are moments in the script that are predictably choreographed. One student fires off in one scene and another during the next. But there are moments when Machado can make individuals subtly stand out. Kaique de Jesus plays Samuel, a boy who eventually becomes Laerte’s star student. He conveys such stoicity and earns his place in the class despite being an abusive home. It’s this electric essence with these actors that elevates this film from it’s cozy independent corner.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.