The Teachers’ Lounge – movie review

A diligent young teacher is caught up in a seemingly never-ending downward spiral in Ilker Catak’s film The Teacher’s Lounge. Try as she might, whichever way she manoeuvres seems to make matters worse.

Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is in her first job at a German school. She teaches 12-year-olds (sixth-graders) and cares a great deal. But she finds herself in a very awkward position. She watches on as two young class representatives are pressed to give up the name of a fellow student accused of stealing. The untenable situation will have far reaching consequences. The thefts continue and Ms Nowak uses her wiles to set up a scenario in the teachers’ lounge, which she believes can ferret out the culprit. Suspicion falls on a long servicing school administrator, who point-blank refuses to accept that she has been caught in the act – regardless of video proof. In fact, she denies any wrongdoing, while Ms Nowak is accused of breaching privacy.

This is far from the end of the matter though. Colleagues turn on each other. And Ms Nowak’s best student happens to be the administrator’s son. He naturally defends his mother and starts to act up. The class is up in arms. The student body and parents turn the blowtorch on Ms Nowak.

I loved the moral quandary at the heart of The Teacher’s Lounge and the thought-provoking screenplay crafted by Catak and Johannes Duncker. The film, complete with nerve-jangling music, has all the hallmarks of a taut thriller in a school setting, with twists and revelations aplenty.

The film is distinguished by a series of naturalistic performances, with none better than Leonie Benesch in the lead. Attempting to maintain a positive disposition becomes increasingly difficult for Ms Nowak and it is written all over Benesch’s face. Showing laudable restraint, she still manages to wear her heart on her sleeve in a truly great showing.

I also appreciated the juxtaposition of officialdom in the state the school finds itself and the catty nature of the teachers. The machinations of the student body add a further riveting dimension, while cultural sensibilities are also in play.

The Teachers’ Lounge is undoubtedly one of this year’s best offerings. It wasn’t nominated for Best International Picture at this year’s Oscar for nothing.

The Teacher’s Lounge is currently in limited release

Alex First

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