- “The Teacher’s Lounge” is an intense and thrilling school-based drama that explores the lack of trust between students and teachers.
- The film builds tension and suspense masterfully, focusing on the fallout of the crime rather than the actual perpetrator.
- Leonie Benesch delivers an expressive and nuanced performance, commanding the screen and adding depth to the story.
It’s not often that a school-based drama is so intense and thrilling, but that’s essentially what describes director Ilker Çatak’s The Teacher’s Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer in German), a film he co-wrote with Johannes Duncker. The German film delivers a heart-pounding story that will leave you with quite a few emotions and thoughts well after its closing scene. What makes The Teacher’s Lounge exceptional is in the way it explores the lack of trust between students and teachers, who are so fixated on finding a perpetrator that they abuse their power. With an outstanding performance by Leonie Benesch, whose interiority is on full display, the school drama is sharply written and psychologically arresting.
Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch), a sixth grade math teacher, is a part of the teacher’s council currently trying to find a thief who keeps stealing money and school-related items. Carla is somewhat uncomfortable by the school’s handling of the situation, which has seen her coworkers interrogating students about what they know and who they suspect. But when Carla takes it upon herself to record the thief while she steps away from her wallet in the teacher’s lounge, she believes she’s found the culprit in office administrator Ms. Kuhn (Eva Löbau), who refuses to admit guilt. One thing leads to another, and Ms. Kuhn’s son Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch), a student in Carla’s class, gets involved and things escalate.
As with Anatomy of a Fall, The Teacher’s Lounge isn’t so much concerned with who’s involved in the crime so much as it is with the fallout. The film masterfully builds tension — be it with the students standing up to Carla or in the escalation of a seemingly harmless inquiry. Everything comes together in the end as we’re left to ponder how quickly the situation spiraled. The script walks a fine line; it could have been easy to place blame on any of the parties involved, but there’s little criticism embedded into the story. It simply lays out the issues and emotions the characters must contend with.
What it leaves us with is a thought-provoking story that explores multiple themes — about authority, what it means to do the right thing (and how it’s perceived), and profiling, among others. Through it all The Teacher’s Lounge manages to authentically develop suspense. Whether it’s through small interactions, silences heavy with anticipation, or Carla’s emotional unraveling, every moment is filled with anxiousness and intensity that culminates in an explosive ending that turns out to be more sad than anything. The writing is smart, and no line of dialogue is wasted. Çatak’s direction, along with the editing, is great, slowly following Carla day in and day out while getting frenetic the more alarming and deteriorating things get.
At the center of it all is Leonie Benesch, whose performance is so expressive. She’s able to convey all that Carla is feeling and the physical tension and stress-induced hyperventilation built into her portrayal is excellent. Benesch truly commands the screen and much of the story is bolstered by her searing, nuanced performance. Leonard Stettnisch is also great as Oskar, who lobbies his anger and frustration at Carla to be in control of something in a situation that is much bigger than him. It’s a quiet, unnerving performance that nicely complements Benesch’s.
The Teacher’s Lounge is tautly executed, developing a winding and thrilling story where no one comes out unscathed. Its examination of a school’s hierarchy and its effect on students’ precarious trust of teachers, as well as the your word against mine mentality that quickly breaks down and leads to lashing out and unforeseen consequences, is superb. It’s an exemplary film that strikes an emotional and thoughtful chord.
The Teacher’s Lounge screened at the 2023 Middleburg Film Festival, and will be released in limited theaters on December 15. The film is 98 minutes long and rated PG-13 for some strong language.