The Teacher’s Lounge movie review: Germany's Oscar nominee is compelling | Hollywood - Hindustan Times

The Teacher’s Lounge movie review: Germany's Oscar nominee is a compelling tour de force

Feb 27, 2024 10:02 AM IST

İlker Çatak’s The Teacher's Lounge, which is the official German Oscar entry for Best International Feature, is a nail-bitingly intense drama.

What happens in the school staffroom? What do the teachers talk about? As a child I remember standing just outside the door of the staffroom, waiting to carry the corrected notebooks for the class as some of the other teachers who had an off period, sat by themselves, or had a cup of tea. In Germany's Oscar nominee for Best International Film, The Teacher's Lounge, the same curiosity opens up a world of contradictions, accusations and power dynamics. Come unprepaded for İlker Çatak's nail-bitingly intense drama, and there are high chances that you will be left floored. (Also read: SAG Awards 2024: Lily Gladstone's win over Emma Stone shakes up Best Actress race ahead of Oscars)

Leonie Benesch in a still from The Teacher's Lounge.
Leonie Benesch in a still from The Teacher's Lounge.

The premise

Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch, best known for her work in Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon), is the new math and PE teacher, who is dedicated to her work, working admirably to engage with her students in class. Her idealism gets the first hit when she's witness to a culture of mutual suspicion and institutional racism when her class representatives are pressurized to name one of their classmates Ali (Can Rodenbostel) for stealing money.

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This event rattles Carla, and the next time she is in the teacher's lounge, she keeps her laptop camera open in front of her coat, which has her wallet. On return, she already knows what's going to be, as some cash is missing. The evidence wrecks havoc on a staff member's reputation, but gets more complicated for her son Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch). He is a quiet and talented boy in Carla's class, and both of them share a promising rapport- which tears apart after the accusation turns into bullying and consequently, into resentment.

The Teacher's Lounge is told through Carla's point of view and is restricted only within the premises of the school- encompassing for a whole society under surveillance. It is a bubble, constructed into a 4:3 aspect ratio by cinematographer Judith Kaufmann, giving the space an almost narrow, claustrophobic mirror to the world at large. Of great aid here is Marvin Miller's impassive score- immediately pushing the sense of imminent turbulence that will follow. Çatak, working here with a script that he co-wrote with Vanessa König, carefully calibrates issues of institutional surveillance, dangerous accusations, and the vagaries of modern technology- where a WhatsApp group of the mothers are enough to spread the rumours into the innocuous minds of the children.

A terrific lead performance

At the centre of this unspooling mess is Leonie Benesch, who gives a terrific performance as the idealistic teacher having to face one bad day after another. A single sequence of her having a panic attack after a disastrous PTM is unforgettable. Stettnisch powers through in the later scenes, his unscrupulous gaze conveying the internal rage that wrecks havoc in the classroom. It is a wise decision that we never get to see what his dynamic is at home, and we are introduced to his gradual coldness only within the confines of the school. It makes for a brilliant argument of the tricky balance in a teacher-student relationship, where Carla can help as much as Oskar chooses to allow it.

Final thoughts

Breathtakingly intense and masterfully restrained, The Teacher's Lounge is one of the finest films of the year. I think I forgot to breathe for the last thirty minutes- such is its power and authority. Where does courage come from? Where does truth reside? There is nothing more scary than realizing that the world is oblivious to face its own hardened and complicit politics.

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