The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE

New Release Review - THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE
A teacher becomes increasingly isolated when she accuses a fellow faculty member of theft.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ilker Çatak

Starring: Leonie Benesch, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak, Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Eva Löbau

The Teachers' Lounge poster

Like Eric Gravel's recent Laure Calamy vehicle Full Time, Ilker Çatak's The Teachers' Lounge is a drama about the sort of trials and tribulations everyday people face every day. No guns are produced and the most the protagonist has to lose is their job, and yet it plays like a thriller. It's a movie in which the heroine always tries to do the right thing, but by making quick decisions and following her instinct she sometimes does the exact opposite. Perhaps that's what makes it so relatable.

The film takes place exclusively within the walls of a German high school. At the point the story begins, the school is suffering an epidemic of petty theft. Following an intrusive search of pupils' wallets (do kids really have wallets now, or is this just a German thing?), a young Turkish boy becomes the chief suspect due to the large amount of cash found in his wallet. When his parents are called in they explain that they gave their son the money to buy a video game, and they're rightly unhappy about the accusation of theft, implying racism on the school's part.

The Teachers' Lounge review

New to the faculty is Maths and PE teacher Carla (a gripping performance from Leonie Benesch), who is uncomfortable with the manner in which her colleagues have been handling the investigation. As Carla stands up for the rights of her pupils, some of her fellow teachers imply a "whose side are you on?" mentality. Carla's Polish heritage makes her aware of how easily she might be isolated from her co-workers, and she insists that a fellow Polish-German teacher stop speaking their ancestral tongue around their colleagues.

Carla decides to take the investigation into her hands. Leaving some cash in a wallet in her jacket on the back of a chair, she sets her laptop's camera to record and leaves the teachers' lounge. When she returns she finds that some money has been taken from her wallet. Checking the recording, Carla sees her laptop has captured the sleeve of a distinctive white blouse with a flower pattern reaching into her jacket pocket and taking the wallet before returning it minus a few notes. The culprit's face isn't visible but Carla identifies the blouse as that of the school's head secretary, Ms Kuhn (Eva Lobau). Carla approaches Kuhn and tells her that if she returns the money and quits her thievery she won't take the matter any further. The accusation is vociferously denied by Kuhn, who maintains her innocence even when Carla takes things to the headmistress, who shows her the video. Kuhn storms out, along with her son Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch), who happens to be the brightest pupil in Carla's Maths class.

The Teachers' Lounge review

What seems initially like a simple open and shut case quickly becomes anything but. After some legal consultation Carla is found to have breached rules by making a recording, which would be inadmissible in any potential court scenario. Despite what seems like glaring evidence against Kuhn, Carla begins to question whether she may have been wrong in accusing her of the theft. Things are complicated further when Carla sees the effect her accusation has on Oskar, who understandably refuses to believe that his mother is a thief. Teachers will tell you that officially they view all their pupils as equal, but unofficially they have their favourites, those whose potential makes them stand out. There's enough subtle evidence to suggest that Oskar is Carla's favourite, not just for his smartness but because his status as an outsider probably reminds Carla of her own struggles to fit in as a child of immigrant parents. Hoping to prompt his interest in algorithms, Carla gives the boy her old Rubik's cube.

That retro toy acts as something of an allegory for Carla's situation. The object of completing that 1980s puzzle is to create order out of chaos. As things begin to unravel for Carla, her life becomes a Rubik's cube whose colours refuse to line up, becoming more chaotic with each new strategy she pursues. Despite the gesture and the amicability shared between the boy and his doting teacher, Oskar turns against Carla, convincing his classmates to stand with him in a campaign of disobedience. You can understand why Carla is drawn to Maths, as it offers a certainty that's all too absent from the messiness and unpredictability of life.

The Teachers' Lounge review

The Teachers' Lounge is an intensely nerve-wracking film about what is surely one of today's most stressful occupations. It's unlikely to convince too many viewers to take up teaching, as it portrays the profession as akin to negotiating a never-ending minefield. Carla finds herself fighting a war on three fronts, with her pupils, their parents and her fellow teachers all turning against her. A disastrous parent/teacher meeting is so harrowing to watch that you may find yourself following Carla's actions when she flees the room for the safety of a nearby bathroom. The Teachers' Lounge is the sort of movie that will leave you with PTSD.

In the past there was always an unwritten covenant between parent and teacher in which it was agreed that the latter was in charge of your child once you dropped them off at the school gate, but this agreement has been largely eroded in our increasingly narcissistic society with its mistrust of experts. Any parents whose automatic instinct is to second guess their children's teachers would do well to watch The Teachers' Lounge and develop some empathy for a profession that sadly no longer commands the respect it deserves.

The Teachers' Lounge is in UK/ROI cinemas from April 12th.

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