Review by Sean Boelman
There has been an influx of films dealing with teachers facing political pushback — with two movies on this topic alone playing at this year’s TIFF. Katalin Moldovai’s Without Air is a straightforward film, but a strong leading performance and a timely message allow the film to work quite well.
The movie follows a teacher in a small town who recommends her students a film, only for her to get in trouble when one of her students’ parents disagree with its content. There have been lots of classroom-set dramatic thrillers that focus on the struggle teachers have in the modern educational system, and while Without Air does not add anything particularly new to the conversation, it’s still an important conversation to be had.
There’s a really interesting conversation to be had in the movie about the role of censorship in the classroom. Although the film is set in Hungary, this is a topic that audiences from around the world are likely to sympathize with — as there are debates like this happening in cultures everywhere.
This is not the type of thriller where you will be on the edge of your seat the whole time, but one that creeps under your skin and leaves you feeling immensely uncomfortable by the time the credits roll. It feels like the movie is building to an explosive finale and while it is not, the more nuanced way the film ends feels equally impactful.
The character development in the movie is not particularly deep or nuanced, but audiences will undeniably sympathize with the protagonist by default from the situation she is in. The supporting characters — such as the student whose parent reports the protagonist — show a great deal of potential but are largely underused.
Ágnes Krasznahorkai is great in her leading role, giving a performance that is extraordinarily subtle. One would normally expect a film like this to primarily focus on big, showy monologues, but Krasznahorkai’s performance thrives more in the moments where she radiates a subtle sadness.
The movie is somewhat straightforward when it comes to its technique, but it’s all very competently done. Moldovai knows that the strengths of the film are its script and performances, and as such, she uses a technique that allows her to accentuate these aspects of the movie and allow them to carry its emotion.
Without Air is an interesting and well-made drama dealing with timely themes. Although there have been other films to explore the same thematic ground in the past, and perhaps more effectively, Moldova gets the job done.
Without Air is screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.