Sunday, 5 May 2024, 3:30 pm
Rainbow Cinemas, Northumberland Mall

the teachers lounge posterCarla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is a dedicated, idealistic young teacher in her first job at a German middle school. Her relaxed rapport with her seventh-grade students is put under stress when a series of thefts occur at the school, and a staff investigation leads to accusations and mistrust among outraged parents, opinionated colleagues, and angry students. Caught in the middle of these complex dynamics, Carla tries to mediate—but the more she tries to do everything right, the more desperate her position becomes.

Directed By: Ilker Çatak
Written By: Ilker Çatak, Johannes Duncker
Cast: Leonie Benesch, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak, Eva Löbau
Rating: PG-13
Language: German
Run time: 1h 34m
Genre:  Drama


By Daniel Reynolds

There’s a special stress inherent to school dramas, particularly those that do not operate in an inspirational mode. Director Ilker Çatak’s The Teachers’ Lounge contains (or tries to contain) that specific pressure. While his film is shot from a single perspective, its conflict seems to develop from every direction at once, inspiring only moral chaos for all involved. This is what I mean by special: it’s astounding just how much mess gets made here.

As co-written with Johannes Duncker, The Teachers’ Lounge rests on Carla (Leonie Benesch), a well-meaning young educator drawn into an investigation after a series of thefts in her school. It becomes clear (to her, anyway) that the other teachers are, however subtly, leading an inquisition against some of the students; Carla begins to worry about injustice, leading to a rash action that implicates a staff member and her very best student, The Teachers LoungeOskar (Leonard Stettnisch). What follows is a series of escalations that could almost be deemed surreal if not for the film’s consistent grounding in modern-day educational terminology and context. Çatak winds his narrative with this tension in mind, his camera never quite leaving Carla’s side while trapping her in an Academy ratio frame. For her part, Benesch’s performance works along a similar high-wire, playing off aggrieved students, colleagues, and parents (including a striking Eva Löbau) alike with nary a moment to breathe. It feels easy to say that there are no easy answers for Carla—especially with the entire institutional apparatus seemingly fighting against her—so both the character and actor just keep searching for a solution.

The governing symbol of The Teachers’ Lounge (a Rubik’s cube) and its final image (no spoilers!) keep the film turning in one’s mind after it ends. Çatak is unable by choice to provide a satisfactory resolution, but in that frustration, the same found in the effort to solve a puzzle, the mind is driven to consider the limits of truth, justice, and understanding—in an everyday school context, and also everywhere else.