Film

Stark, Social-Realist Thriller The Lesson Will Trap You

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Playing upon the universality of being anxiously broke, Bulgarian filmmaking duo Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s stark, stealthy, and dispassionately shot social-realist drama traps viewers in what turns out to be a precisely paced, nightmarish thriller.

The industriousness and Larry David–rivaling pedantry of rural small-town schoolteacher and mother Nadezhda (Margita Gosheva) are introduced straightaway, as she obsessively vows to expose a young classroom thief. At home, her drunken deadbeat of a husband has also essentially stolen money by squandering the family’s mortgage payments, leaving “Nade” just three days to save their home from the auction block.

Frustrated by an employer facing its own insolvency, disillusioned by her family, and fucked over by unbending bureaucracy, Nade pounds the pavement and has her principles tested as the obstacles intensify and hopeful options disappear.

Some have drawn easy comparisons between her against-the-clock tenacity and Marion Cotillard’s humiliating mission to save her hide in Two Days, One Night — to be fair, the film’s austere tracking shots sometimes mirror the Dardennes’ and even Robert Bresson’s — but the urgency becomes more wickedly visceral here as Nade makes bold, morally compromising choices involving shady troublemakers. It’s a tough, gripping watch made emotionally rewarding through trenchant plotting and Gosheva’s tight-lipped expressiveness.

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