wed 22/05/2024

The Teachers' Lounge - teacher-pupil relationships under the microscope | reviews, news & interviews

The Teachers' Lounge - teacher-pupil relationships under the microscope

The Teachers' Lounge - teacher-pupil relationships under the microscope

Thoughtful, painful meditation on status, crime, and power

Who'd be a teacher?: Leonie Benesch as Carla NowakJudith Kauffmann

The Teachers’ Lounge should really have been translated into English as The Staffroom, but that’s a minor gripe. Focussing on a class of 11-year-olds in a German secondary school, İlker Çatak’s Oscar-nominated feature shows school life as a microcosm of the outside world, showing what can happen “when a society, such as a school community, is poisoned with speculation and prejudices.”

Leonie Benesch plays Carla Nowak, a young, newly appointed teacher. Idealistic and enthusiastic, she’s initially got her class exactly where she wants them: they’re working hard and treating her and one another with respect. A series of thefts results in the boys in Carla’s class being forced by a colleague to have their wallets searched, after which she begins to unravel.

Predictably, such a ham-fisted approach backfires badly and an innocent child’s parents are called in for an excruciating meeting with the school’s bullish head (Anne-Kathrin Gummich). Dissatisfied, Carla covertly leaves her laptop camera recording in the titular teachers’ lounge (pictured below), the footage providing seemingly incontrovertible evidence of the actual thief’s identity. What ensues is a gripping, painful examination of the dangers of jumping to conclusions – investigating a such a crime should really be left to professional outsiders.

in teachers' loungeBenesch’s mesmeric performance carries the film, Carla’s every thought and feeling apparent from her face alone, though there’s a misguided hallucinatory sequence in the final act that even Benesch can’t quite manage. Çatak’s risky decision to cast children with no previous experience as the students pays off, Carla’s interactions with her more volatile pupils wholly credible. An interview scene with the young editors of the school newspaper is particularly well-handled, her authority evaporating in front of us.

Marvin Miller’s ominous, spectral score adds to the unease of The Teacher's Lounge, which was shot over four weeks in a disused Hamburg high school, and the lack of artificial lighting (coupled with distinctly grey Hamburg weather) lends it a suitably crepuscular ambience. An inconclusive but defiant final scene that's accompanied by a well-chosen snatch of Mendelssohn feels entirely appropriate.

Çatak and his cast manage to avoid most of the clichés that mar so many school-based films. UK teachers will doubtless be reassured to see that parents’ WhatsApp groups can be as big a problem in Germany as they are here, and no one who’s worked in a school will be surprised that the printers and photocopiers are constantly jamming.

Çatak’s risky decision to cast children with no previous experience pays off

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4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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