April 2024

Classroom drama tackles uncomfortable truths at the chalkface

In the hallowed halls of a German school, where fluorescent lights flicker and the scent of chalk lingers, The Teachers’ Lounge unfolds a gripping drama that delves into the complexities of power, justice, and democracy. Reviewed by Adrian Middeldorp.

Directed by İlker Çatak, the film received a well-deserved nomination for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards.

Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is an idealistic teacher who values a pedagogy of participation rather than authoritarianism and finds herself caught in a web of suspicion.

When a series of small thefts plagues the teachers’ lounge (staff room), Carla’s 7th grade students become unwitting detectives and suspects. Pressure mounts as other faculty members demand they identify the culprit.

Image: The Teachers’ Lounge © Judith Kaufmann, Alamode Film.

Carla, torn between her principles and institutional pressure, initially encourages an approach of collaboration and restorative justice. However, her relentless pursuit of justice forces her to sacrifice her own principles to entrap the thief.

The Teachers’ Lounge explores themes of democracy and power dynamics. As Carla grapples with her own moral compass, she faces a system that often values conformity over truth. It invites us to question not only the thefts within its fictional walls, but also the thefts of justice and agency in our own lives.

As Carla’s laptop records secrets, so does this film, capturing the pulse of a flawed yet resilient system. The school becomes a battleground: parents against teachers, student rebellion and school executive dominance over educators, a microcosm where alliances shift, and loyalties are tested. The camera captures every tense exchange, lingering on the furrowed brows and clenched fists that belie the calm facade of academia.

Leonie Benesch’s portrayal of Carla is a revelation. Her expressive eyes convey both vulnerability and determination. Carla’s internal journey from idealism to disillusionment resonates. Her quiet desperation keeps us guessing until the final frame.

It would be remiss to not mention the students, who execute their roles so perfectly that they mirror the modern student par excellence.

Educators will find some of the scenes immensely relatable and extremely uncomfortable. A scene where parents derail a student overseas-exchange information night to trap Carla is masterfully executed.

İlker Çatak’s direction navigates the snowballing plot with finesse. The film’s pacing mirrors the heartbeat of a suspenseful thriller, punctuated by quiet revelations.

Çatak’s choice to focus on the teachers’ lounge, a seemingly mundane space, becomes a metaphor for larger societal struggles. The Teachers’ Lounge exposes power structures inherent in wider society. The teachers and students, representing different classes and backgrounds, vie for control. The thefts become a symbol of economic disparity, racial profiling, and the struggle for agency.

The film invites us to question who holds the keys to justice and whose voices are silenced. Long takes emphasise the weight of silence and the unspoken truths that echo through empty hallways.

Image: The Teachers’ Lounge © Judith Kaufmann, Alamode Film.

Cinematographer Judith Kaufmann demonstrates subtle artistry. The camera prowls the dimly lit corridors, capturing stolen glances and whispered conversations. The decision to film in 4:3 ratio (box) rather than widescreen amplifies the tension, leaving the viewer trapped in a square, increasing the tension of the movie. Close-ups reveal the beads of sweat on Carla’s forehead as she confronts her colleagues.

While the film excels in character development, acting and cinematography, a deeper dive into their motivations would enrich the narrative. Additionally, the denouement, though satisfying, could have pushed the boundaries further. The nuanced performances, evocative visuals, and unflinching exploration of moral ambiguity make this film worth watching.

The Teachers’ Lounge is a German-language film with English subtitles, distributed by Madman Entertainment in Australia. It will be released in cinemas on 25 April 2024. To view the trailer and session times, click here.





Adrian Middeldorp

Adrian Middeldorp holds a Bachelor of Media from the University of Adelaide and a Masters of Teaching from Australian Catholic University.

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