By: Jolie Featherstone
Ilker Çatak’s award-winning feature The Teachers’ Lounge is a scintillating, modern-day fable.
Carla Nowak is a teacher at a jr. high in Germany. She’s an attentive and thoughtful teacher who deeply cares about the role of an educator in her students’ lives. However, the school is reeling in the wake of theft. Faculty and students alike are becoming tangled in the growing unease. Carla is appalled when the faculty pressures student representatives to name classmates that they suspect of being involved. She advocates for the children and acts as a dissenting voice against the administration.
When this is followed by school administrators interrupting her classroom to question one of the few students of colour in the classroom, Carla vehemently voices her disagreement. Yet, she’s made to sit alongside the staff as they question the student’s parents.
When Carla conducts an experiment to find the real culprit, her findings create a shockwave that ripples through the school – leading to increasingly threatening circumstances.
The Teachers’ Lounge is a masterfully told tale of ethics, bureaucracy, and interpersonal justice. It calls to mind the saying: “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” and, “no good deed goes unpublished.” Our protagonist is driven by a strong commitment to ethics and fairness. Her drive to protect her students is often met with dismissiveness by the strict administration, and barely-shaded ridicule by her colleagues. She’s duty-bound to her students and all of her actions are intended to do the right thing – yet sometimes they have less than ideal consequences. It highlights the difficulty of personal justice when working in a collective atmosphere.
Leonie Benesch is excellent as Carla Nowak, the idealistic teacher pushing herself to her limit to do what she thinks is right, even when such actions bump up against the rigid boundaries of bureaucracy and social hierarchy. Benesch speaks volumes through her eyes, and in the muscles in her face. The beats of tension, mystery, and realization within the film are mapped on Benesch’s clear features. Throughout the film, her character is pushed to her absolute limits. Yet she tirelessly still tries to do what she feels is just – even if it comes at a cost to herself or, inadvertently, to someone else.
Çatak’s film is tense and will have you bracing yourself for what is to come, while also eagerly anticipating how the next scene will unfold. The film is orchestrated with precision and a keen eye – from the unsettling, staccato strings of the score, to the costuming, to the editing – everything is in service of the film’s pace and emotional storytelling.
It’s no surprise that The Teachers’ Lounge, Germany’s 2024 Oscar entry, has clinched an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature. If you enjoyed The Kindergarten Teacher, definitely give Çatak’s movie a watch. Smart, sharp, and thought-provoking, The Teachers’ Lounge is a film you’ll want to discuss as soon as the credits roll.
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