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Film: The Teacher’s lounge (Original title: Das Lehrerzimmer/German)
Cast: Leonie Benesch, Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Rafael Stachowiak, Eva Lobou, Leonard Stettnisch, Michael Klammer
Director: Ilker Çatak
Rating: 3.5/5
Runtime: 98 min

The title itself indicates that this film is set in a school but this one is as different from ‘TheHoldovers’ as chalk from cheese. Both films are brilliant, emotively enriching experiences. The Teacher’s lounge is a brilliantly crafted investigative thriller constructed from as innocuous an event as a theft within the perimeters of a junior high school with students and faculty members. The film aims to raise thought-provoking questions while refraining from providing a definitive answer.

Carla Nowak (Leone Benesch) who hails from Poland originally, and new to the school, is idealistic and passionate about teaching. Her teaching methods are not regimented. She prefers to motivate students by having them think creatively from different perspectives. When one of her students is accused of stealing money, and the school principal Dr Bohm (Anne-Kathrin Gummich) decides on interrogating the students, as well as having a conference with the accused student’s parents, she objects. Carla herself had witnessed an occurrence at the teacher’s lounge and given that there are so many thefts reported at the school she prefers to set a trap using her laptop’s camera and her own wallet.

Carla’s clandestine investigation using questionable methods exposes a flawed system. Carla’s good intentions don’t throw up just results. Complications pile up and Carla starts to doubt herself. Through the lens of the director we can see that doing the right thing may not always be kosher. Carla is under severe stress and pressure. By not being able to say what she thinks, restrictions she puts on herself in order to cohere between the teacher and student world, she appears to be making her own life difficult. The film tackles issues like morality, othering, integrity, misguided apprehension, racism, class resentments, student rebellion etc. Weaving them into a narrative that may seem quotidian but is actually  so rich and crafty that an enviable plethora of issues get tackled in this intimate snapshot of a society in which trust comes at a premium.

Carla, unintentionally, has stirred a hornets nest. Her anxiety heightens at every seeming misstep. The school administrator Ms. Kuhn (Eva Lobau) who happens to be the mother of Carla’s favorite student, Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch) becomes an accused, and gets suspended by Dr Bohm. Oskar starts lashing out and threatening Carla, those who find Carla’s use of the laptop camera intrusive, make their feelings clear in no uncertain words and the student newspaper journalists seize on this opportunity to incite rebellion.

The narrative focus is on everyday people of the school and the intensity and stress that they undergo. Writer-director Iler Catak and co-writer Johannes Duncker tap into this largely unexplored area while illuminating everyday life and pressures. The film is an interesting character study positing out-of-the-box solutions that go beyond regimented school regulations. The characters are not all likeable yet you feel compelled to know what motivates their actions. The purposeful and inveigling camerawork by Judith Kaufmann captures the setting beautifully while lending intensity and tone to the drama unleashed. Handheld shots of people talking, walking, and moving through the frame, often without music, serve up unnerving echoes. Marvin Miller’s disharmonious strings point to the churning that Carla experiences.

The narrative’s exploration of social dynamics within the simple setting, has bite. The pacing and dialogue lend intensity to the build-up despite it’s realistic bent. Gesa Jäger’s editing helps keep it pacy without impacting intensity or bedevilment. Çatak’s narrative takes surprising turns while maintaining a well modulated simmering tension that helps keep the audience hooked and on edge. You get the foreboding that these characters are headed towards tragedy. The film doesn’t wrap up neatly or end where one might expect it to and it gets you thinking. The lead performance from Leonie Benesch is as mesmerizing as they come. This is indeed a beautifully crafted film with immensely intriguing characterizations.

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