The Teachers’ Lounge (2023, dir. İlker Çatak)

by | Apr 9, 2024

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 98 mins

UK Distributor: Curzon

UK Release Date: 12 April 2024

WHO’S IN THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE?

Leonie Benesch, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak, Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Eva Löbau, Leonard Stettnisch

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

İlker Çatak (director, writer), Johannes Duncker (writer), Ingo Fliess (producer), Marvin Miller (composer), Judith Kaufmann (cinematographer), Gesa Jäger (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A teacher (Benesch) conducts her own investigation into a series of thefts at her school…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE?

School seems to be a popular destination for filmmakers seeking to make some stark social commentary on the state of the adult world. Mean Girls (both versions) studied systems of hierarchal power within the walls of high school, Alexander Payne’s Election satirised the cutthroat world of American politics via a student body presidential election, and the German film The Wave showed the disturbing effects of fascism within a social experiment gone wrong.

We now return to Germany for another school-set cautionary tale with director and co-writer İlker Çatak’s The Teachers’ Lounge, which has a number of pressing societal topics on its mind, but none more so than the consistent frustration of helpless subjects under increasingly authoritative rule – which just so happen to be respectively represented by young students and their teachers.

The film is set almost entirely at a school where newly-arrived teacher Carla (Leonie Benesch), who has an idealist attitude toward her profession and her impressionable young students, watches as certain members of her class are accused by staff faculty of committing a series of thefts around the school. Disturbed by the accusations thrown at her seemingly innocent students, particularly one who is of Middle Eastern origin, Carla soon decides to conduct her own investigation after suspecting one of her fellow teachers of the crime. However, her noble intentions end up having a seismic effect throughout the school, as displeased staff members, dissatisfied parents, disgruntled former employees and even her own students begin rallying against her, all of whom soon drive Carla closer and closer to breaking point.

Unlike most of the previously mentioned high school satires, The Teachers’ Lounge is less comedic in its satire of societal disruption, but Çatak is no less forthcoming with his and co-writer Johannes Duncker’s fictional allegory, opting instead for a pressured vibe one often finds in a straightforward time-bomb thriller. The filmmaker treats scenes of escalating tension between this teacher and virtually everyone in her vicinity like something out of Uncut Gems, with one bad thing turning into several other bad things like a Russian doll of consistent bad luck, leaving both the central protagonist and the viewer in a consistently panicked and stressed-out state. A combination of shaky handheld cinematography by Judith Kaufmann, Marvin Miller’s foreboding musical score, and sharp editing by Gesa Jäger all place a strong emphasis on the unnerved atmosphere of this increasingly destabilised school environment, which builds and builds until a cathartic screaming session later on in the movie releases some of that incomprehensible stress.

The filmmaking as a whole is completely solid, as is the ensemble cast (wherein most of its young players are first-time actors, not that you’d be able to tell from how natural their performances are), but it is Çatak and Duncker’s script that gives The Teachers’ Lounge a real bolt of intelligent and thought-provoking energy. Reportedly inspired by a real-life school case where young students were forced to turn in their wallets after they were suspected of theft, which happens early on in the film, said incident provides a compelling starting-off point for the director to draw more and more parallels with numerous issues within modern adult society, from racial profiling to invasion of privacy to press freedoms. The unhealthy combination soon leads to a civilised chaos at this school that eventually becomes hard to contain; obviously it never becomes as outlandish and over-the-top as in, say, Mean Girls, but Çatak and Duncker are smart in how they show the rapid disintegration of school society as a direct result of student outrage over incidents that many feel to be unjust.

One can easily spot however many parallels they wish between the students’ protests against the ruling authority and the countless public demonstrations across the world today, but it is a testament to this film’s storytelling that it never loses sight of its own ambitions. There are certainly parts of the narrative that could have done with a tad more development, but the parts that work do so because Çatak is a director that is able to say plenty about the state of the modern world while still remembering to actually tell a complete story instead of an endless assortment of Twitter drafts. Though you are certainly made aware of the various themes and commentary that The Teachers’ Lounge is trying to get across, it doesn’t whack you over the head with any of them, instead using them to amplify a self-contained narrative where you are endlessly intrigued as well as on the verge of a panic attack.

In doing so, Çatak’s film becomes its own satisfying product that largely transcends its subtitles into something radically universal.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Teachers’ Lounge is a smart school-set political thriller that continuously builds pressure as it dives into its social commentary on the current state of the world, but never at the expense of its own storytelling strengths.

Four of of five stars

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