This is an odd topic, but funnily enough, cinema hasn’t been much of a stranger to it. The ‘teacher-student’ romantic relationship is a good base for a plot because with it comes an obvious sense of tension, secrecy, and awkwardness. The emotions are all there and gives the film that utilizes this topic a chance to develop characters as the relationship further grows. However, not exploiting this in a smart way can lead to problems, often caused by audience reactions and box office numbers. Though I’d always go for cinematic excellence over financial returns, for filmmakers going about this sort of romance in their pictures, the outcome might not always be in their favor. For this reason alone, the ‘teacher-student’ relationship is a risky subject to tackle and, therefore, not always easy to get right.
The films in the list below have covered this plot-line in interesting and/or innovative methods, which have helped them secure a connection with the audience, all the while taking a chance that has every possibility to misfires. In any case, here’s the list of top movies about student-teacher romantic affairs. You can watch some of these best teacher-student movies on Netflix or Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
10. Elegy (2008)
‘Elegy’ is the movie on this list that I’ve seen most recently, and I’m thankful because I may just have witnessed one of the most ambitious films of the 21st century. This is an erotic drama, with Ben Kingsley’s character posing as the teacher in this relationship – an expat Brit who also happens to be a writer – and it chronicles his relationship with a seemingly well-mannered and obedient student of his, played by Penelope Cruz. Being rather ruthless with the way he treats women, the professor is surprised to find himself falling in love with this girl, all the while developing sexual feelings like never before. ‘Elegy’ has some great performances from both the main stars and its story is gripping, to say the least. Though flawed in direction and screenplay, the film manages to find its way nearing the end, leading to a touching and heartbreaking finale.
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9. Half Nelson (2006)
‘Half Nelson’ is one of the best experiences I had with a movie of all the ones I’ve seen here. The film has to do with a high school teacher and his serious addiction to drugs, portrayed realistically by Ryan Gosling. He likes to keep that part of his life private, and the way he goes about all of this is a little too authentic, if you ask me, making the film difficult to sit through at times. It then shows the development of his friendship with a student in his class after she discovers a dark and unpleasant side of him. There’s a little something that touches us about the way they try to work around his problem. While there isn’t any clear-cut defining moment that the relation between them is one built on feelings, not between mere friends, it is understandable in the subtlest of ways. I think that’s beautiful.
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8. Indian Summer (1972)
Maybe all this picture is a man’s poetic outlook on this world. Perhaps that’s why it has a bright-and-dull, unnatural color scheme. Maybe it’s just a drunken poetry teacher’s emptiness inside and existential thoughts that bring him closer to one of his students. Whatever the case, it is all beautifully realized in this film about love and the meaninglessness of life. Alain Delon’s character, who happens to be the protagonist, is a man who sees vacant vessels around him when he walks around on the street. People rarely interest him, that is, until he comes by a girl in his class, whose sullenness and beauty bring within him a strange sense of attraction. After he discovers the dark secrets in her life outside of the educational institution, he’s left hoping that there’s still that spark about her that he liked, back when all she was a beautiful face. This is an excellent film, although overly dramatic at times.
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7. Blue Car (2002)
This film has a romance that I’d say is unlikely but occurs out of likely situations. It is told from the student’s perspective, a girl named Meg Denning who is a poet at heart. Her character is one that is troubled, both by her inferiority and her life at home, having to live with a sister who is so depressed she refuses to eat and a mother who usually isn’t there for her. This forces Meg to rely on someone outside her direct circles and forms a relationship with her AP English teacher, who appreciates her poetry, motivating her to improve her talents. Thus begins a friendship that slowly turns into something of a romance for the lonely girl, and it is hard not to understand and follow her terrible plight. The film is moving, thought-provoking, and even rather shocking at times, with some faults relating to underdeveloped sub-plots.
6. Pain of Love (1992)
‘Pain of Love,’ I feel, is more an intrusive look at the state of love in the long run than something that is challenged by an age difference, although that is a significant part of what moves the plot along. Nils Malmros’ film depicts a romance that sparks between a young woman and her teacher, focusing on the heartbreak she faces once she slowly starts to realize the truth about this awful feeling (at least as far as she is concerned) – that it doesn’t last for long. Love fades, but the root cause of such a departure is unknown. A fascinating look at depression, the film further leaves us with questions relating to whether the entire problem is caused by her rather deranged sort of thinking. Does that mean love lasts forever, at least for those relationships that are considered the norm? I do not know, and the film doesn’t make it its mission to answer the query. Rather, it is keen on posing it.
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5. July Rhapsody (2002)
I haven’t seen many films by Ann Hui, but with each one I have, there’s this beckoning in my mind to watch one more. In her best works, she has characters who have been flushed out in every way possible, giving them actual situations to deal with, and shaping their traits so well that they feel real in every sense of the word. ‘July Rhapsody’ follows a man in his mid-40s, working as an English professor, but feeling rather unsatisfied with his job (which he chose out of pure love for the subject) when he finds his classmates back in the day living lives much more well off than his when they meet at a reunion. His wife seems to be deeply in love with him, but the fact is that she has been having an extramarital affair, upon the discovery of which the professor is irked, saddened, and confused. This springs off a love story between him and one of his students, which ultimately brings up the theme of morality in a story so well told that it saddens me to say that few have taken notice of – let alone appreciated – this gem.
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4. Madchen in Uniform (1931)
This film was the subject of controversy at the time of its release, and it isn’t too difficult to see why it was so. For starters, the German film was one of the first to depict homosexuality. Taking place in a Catholic boarding school, it follows the life of Manuela, a student without a mother, with a father gone off to war, living a life that lacks love and close contact. The entire school appears to be that way, homing hungry, deprived girls who are unsure of what to think and feel. Manuela is a highly emotional child, and her state forces her to develop feelings for her teacher, Fraulein von Burnberg. It is very surprising to see Manuela get closer to the older woman, mostly because the stuff of this film feels very ahead of its time. On a drunken, tipsy night, the girl lets out her feelings for the teacher, and the touching film relates to us the disastrous situations (yet hopeful in a lot of ways) that thus ensue.
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3. Notes on a Scandal (2006)
‘Notes on a Scandal’ is about the tragedies of everyday life. Following characters so beautifully written and wonderfully acted out, the only thing that makes it all better is the incredibly woven story that takes the form of a thriller drama with romance being an element sprinkled throughout the run time. An art house feature in every way, the film focuses on the friendship that develops between a veteran school teacher and a flirty, innocent art teacher who is several years younger. It trails their relation with each other as it soon turns into a cruel scheme with blackmail pulling the major strings when the older of the two discovers the affair the other one is having with a much younger (fifteen years old to be precise) student of theirs. The film thrives on the characters’ dependency on each other, which is what makes the perilous situation that much more disturbing. It’s supremely underrated, which I feel is unfair.
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2. Election (1999)
Alexander Payne’s films have always been interesting to me. His style is very low-key, not forcing any greater subtext or symbols into his work, rather relying on his characters and their hidden complexities to form the incidents and resolutions that occur. It is a political satire in a lot of ways, a dark comedy in others, and somewhere down the middle becomes an amalgamation of the two concepts. Its base is the school elections, wherein volunteers and their friends trash talk like they normally do, with natural flair taking center stage, as the main focus slowly converges to a high school teacher’s personal life. The elections have caused a lot of problems for her, not to mention the bonding with a certain student that one would call “a little too close” only making things worse. The film is a dark comedy that ultimately doesn’t take itself seriously, and Payne’s trademarks make this one a must-watch.
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1. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Michael Haneke’s films have been mentioned time and again on here. Besides considering him to be one of the greatest filmmakers alive and to have ever lived, I also think of him as very knowledgeable of the human psyche, using his cinema to twist it in ways that make the experience of viewing one of his works magnetic as well as repulsive. ‘The Piano Teacher’ is one of Haneke’s most disturbing films. It makes the very concept of love disgusting and dangerous, something to be afraid of. People are examined the same way, with Isabelle Huppert’s character coming off as vile and deranged, as a piano teacher for whom one of her students fall for. It takes the deepest and most secretive of human fantasies and produces out of them embarrassing and horrifying situations. I honestly can’t sit through this film a second time, and that isn’t because I don’t love it – believe me, I do. The funny thing about all this is that I’ve heard the book it is based on is much more harrowing.
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