“I’m interested in what it means to make a feminine movie – and that’s different I guess from feminist, or maybe it isn’t,” Maggie Gyllenhaal said yesterday, sitting down with writer/director Sara Colangelo to discuss The Kindergarten Teacher.
An alum of Sundance’s Writers and Directors Labs, Colangelo’s second feature centers on the discontented Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal), who feels stuck in her unsatisfying marriage and her life as a kindergarten teacher on Staten Island. Spinelli’s unexpected source of joy (and obsession) comes in the form of a five-year-old boy, whose poetry suggests he may be the prodigy Spinelli wishes she could be. A compelling feminine drama, Colangelo’s film was based on an acclaimed Israeli film of the same name.
A film led by women — in a season seeing an abundance of female-driven films coming out of Sundance — The Kindergarten Teacher is perhaps an antidote to what Gyllenhaal had experienced earlier in her life. “With some real notable exceptions, when I was growing up, women were making movies, but they didn’t always feel that they were expressing something that felt really feminine like I could relate to it,” Gyllenhaal said. “Sometimes I think about The Piano and Jane Campion, and that image…I was maybe 16 when I saw The Piano, and Holly Hunter’s leg tied to a piano at the bottom of the ocean.”
“Why did that resonate with me? I don’t know,” the actress said, reflecting back on her experience of the film. “It’s very unconscious, but it was feminine and expressed something I’d never seen before.”
For Gyllenhaal and Colangelo, what is compelling about The Kindergarten Teacher is not just that it centers on a female character. What’s more important is the level of nuance and authenticity the film brings to its portrayal of a female character – one who is “complicated,” “challenging” and “kind of morally ambiguous.”
“I think really [the film’s] about an artist who’s a woman who’s driven crazy by the insanity of the culture and the time she lives in,” Gyllenhaal said, pointedly. “And she lives in the same time that we do.”
To view more from Deadline’s conversation with The Kindergarten Teacher collaborators, watch above.
The Deadline Studio at Sundance 2018 is presented by Hyundai. Special thanks to Calii Love.