EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a capsule review. The full review will be released once the film hits theatres.
Favorably recalling Mike Leigh and the latest from the Dardenne brothers, The Lesson features one of the year’s best low-key performances in Margita Gosheva. Shouldering the film almost entirely on her own, the actress stars as a teacher and mother facing financial collapse with unassuming determination. During the rare moments she ever looks ready to blow, her eyes explode wide open, and you get to see a Bulgarian Sally Hawkins waiting to happen. At all other times, though, Gosheva’s Nade is a rock of resilience worth following through the small town wringer that The Lesson puts her through.
For the first two thirds, the script from directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov works Nade through increasingly straining circumstances as a tribute to perseverance. As an educator, she shows great patience in the face of a student theft that compromises her shaky financial stability. As a mother, she sets a good example for her young daughter as both breadwinner and caretaker, while her recovering alcoholic husband wastes time trying to pawn off a busted RV that’s hanging around the family like an albatross.
Kept to a short 80 or so minutes, The Lesson would be a well-observed slice of a life challenged by economic uncertainty. As it keeps going, the hardships Nade has to deal with become Job-like in their frequency and improbability. The Lesson is slow to reveal the clockwork world it operates within, which makes some of the coincidences and choices made by its heroine hard to buy at times. By the end though, the film has morphed into a less realistic, but more original examination of moral compromise. It doesn’t make the transition smoothly, but the resolute protagonist and performance at its centre make The Lesson worth paying attention to throughout.