Director's Cut

“The Teachers’ Lounge”, a Silenced Scream

In Film & Series, Director's Cut 3 February, 2024

Eva Peydró

Eva Peydró


The Teacher’s Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer, 2023), directed by Ilker Çatak and nominated for an Oscar for Best International Film at the upcoming Academy Awards, is a social thriller with an ethical debate at its core. Set in the unique setting of a secondary school, the film presents a young teacher, Carla Nowak, confronted with a situation in which her preparation and principles are of no use to her. A robbery in the school is the trigger for a series of actions by the entire school community —parents, teachers, management, and students— that call into question the methods of investigation and resolution they use, by the rules and their criteria. On the other hand, the different attempts at mediation between those involved, with different interests and motivations, are confronted with a system that is as guaranteeing as it is ineffective in protecting the rights of both parties, without satisfying any of the parties.

The approach to the underlying question is contemporary, because the new sensibility and everyday technologies that have transformed our lives, with the limits of use they impose on the protection of rights, redefine the roles of victim and executioner. The social networks and the new contract between teachers and students that shape this thriller would have made The Teacher’s Lounge a different film, only thirty years ago, but perhaps in terms of the tools and the empowerment of something deeper that has always existed in our society. The film, with impeccable photography by Judith Kaufmann, is conceived as a panopticon in which, visually, the different floors, the staircases that cross the screen diagonally, or the rooms that communicate, collectivize, and expose us, as a perfect correlate to the extreme ease of diffusion offered by social networks and instant messaging systems. At the same time, despite its appearance as a microcosm, it is actually a faithful correlate of what happens outside, which is why the individual power of a well-meaning teacher is impotent, even in her demarcation.

This poignant exposition of a dilemma that affects our values, in an entirely contemporary way, is based on an excellent script with just the right amount of cynicism, which cements a solid thriller. Drip by drip, small incidents and their consequences weave a web in which the teacher becomes more and more trapped and blocked as her well-meaning manoeuvres lead her to respond to unexpected situations. Her idealism and inexperience have not prepared her for the complexity of school dynamics, which transcend the walls of the classroom.

The protagonist is a young woman whose righteousness provokes our empathy, but at the same time she is an anti-heroine, in her own milieu. Suspense does not desert us in a film that is confined to the walls of the school, where life outside is only reflected in the parents’ meeting. The school is the magnetic centre that attracts its community, it is there that everything happens and from where everything else is known. We do not follow Miss Kovak home, where she could perhaps discuss the problem with her family or friends, we do not see little Oskar’s home, nor the family drama that lives between guilt, shame and rebellion.

The Teachers’ Lounge is an emotional thriller and a portrait of the school microcosm, but not only that, because Ilker Çatak, who wrote the screenplay with his regular collaborator Johannes Duncker, subtly opens the focus to German society and its values, even making a veiled allusion to xenophobia, with regard to the suspect in the robbery, as well as in a scene in which Carla and a classmate, both of Polish origin, speak in their language.

La sala de profesores The Teachers' Lounge

The performances of the entire cast are more than adequate, with Leonie Benesch (The White Ribbon, Babylon Berlin) playing Carla Novak with touching candour and determination. Eva Löbau (Inglourious Basterds) plays the school administrator, Oskar’s mother (Leonard Stettnisch, in his film debut), whose work manages to provide the necessary ambiguity.

The Teachers’ Lounge, which premiered at the last Berlin Film Festival, won the Best Film Editing Award for Gesa Jäger (Unorthodox) at the Valladolid Film Festival, won five German Film Lola Awards (Best Film, Actress, Director, Screenplay and Editing) in Germany, and will represent Germany as Best International Film at the upcoming Goya and Oscar Awards.

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Leonie BeneschIlker ÇatakThe Teachers' LoungeEva LöbauGesa JägerLeonard Stettnisch

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