The Schoolmaster Games feels like wasted potentialTaryn Allenon June 8, 2022 at 4:24 pm

Based on a book called Magisterlekarna by Kristofer Folkhammar, The Schoolmaster Games takes inspiration from high school dramas and gay porn. St. Sebastian Academy is an all-male “queer utopia” school where homosexuality is the norm. As a group of friends prepares for a (never-fully-explained) prestigious holiday singing procession, jealousy and romance cause strife among them, all under the watchful eye of the pathetically horny schoolmaster (Johan Ehn). Although he’s engaged in an affair with a young swimmer named Charles (Christian Arnold), the schoolmaster can’t stop fantasizing about all of his students, and all the while he’s haunted by the homophobia and violence of his past.

Maybe my expectations were too high coming into this film; the last time I reviewed a gay Swedish movie, I unknowingly stepped into Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced (2019), one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. But Ylva Forner’s new drama does not compare, outside of language and genre. An hour into this slow-moving 82-minute film, I was over the confusing relationship dynamics and watching the schoolmaster jerk off under his desk. A mix of flashbacks, dreamy visions, and even one random fourth-wall break cause the film to feel disjointed, with many questions left unanswered. Characters are mostly surface-level—relying on prop cues like a football or headphones to elicit personality—but they’re played well, notably the four main students: young Ryan Gosling look-alike Johan Charles as Paul, Nino Forss as Noak, Joel Valois as Fred, and Simon Kling as Tim. 

The Schoolmaster Games
One star
82 min. In Swedish with English subtitles
Stream through PrideArts Summer Film Fest, June 8-15, $10

Just as I was questioning if the movie had much of a purpose, it was directly handed to me through dialogue. Frank (Jani Blom), a teacher at St. Sebastian, professes his love for the schoolmaster, begging him to stop lusting after the young students and be with someone his own age who understands him. 

“Do you really believe you will be free like them?” Frank asks the schoolmaster, recognizing with both jealousy and resentment the experimentation and freedom of the young gay men at their school. “They just shrug at everything we struggled for. We thought we were building a sanctuary . . . but we’ve created a hell.”

It’s a slightly heavy-handed “aha” moment, but it highlights the intergenerational aspects of the story, possibly allowing the film to contribute to a very real conversation in the queer community about entitlement, history, and freedom.

Despite this message, grounding moments of music and queer love, and a genuinely surprising climax, The Schoolmaster Games feels scattered and unfinished, like a waste of potential. If you’re looking for something to watch this Pride Month, there are better queer movies—and probably better gay porn—than can be found here.

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