Directed by: İlker Çatak
Written by: İlker Çatak, Johannes Duncker
Starring: Leonie Benesch, Leonard Stettnisch, Eva Löbau, Michael Klammer; Rafael Stachowiak, Sarah Bauerett
Released: April 25, 2024
Grade: A-

The Teacher's Lounge

Of the five nominees for best international feature at this year’s Academy Awards, The Teacher’s Lounge is the last to be made available to Australian audiences.  Made in Germany, it has resonated with audiences on the festival circuit since its premiere in Berlin over a year ago and took home five German Film Awards including best picture, best director, and best actress.  The acclaim is justified.

It’s an intricate, complicated story which takes place entirely within the walls of a school.  Money, stationery, and other items have gone missing, and a group of teachers are attempting to identify the students responsible.  It reaches a point where class captains are being interrogated for potential leads, and random wallet inspections take place during lessons.  One of the 7th grade teachers, Carla Nowak (Benesch), is uncomfortable with the school’s invasive response to the matter and expresses her concerns.

Thinking that perhaps an adult may be the culprit, Carla uses her laptop camera to spy on teachers in the staff room.  It records the arm of a person taking money from inside a jacket pocket on Carla’s desk.  They’re identified as a long-serving administrative officer, Ms Kuhn (Löbau), who strongly refutes the accusation but after a heated confrontation involving the school’s principal, she is placed on leave pending a formal investigation.  Adding to the delicacy of the situation is that the accused has a son, Oskar, who attends the school and is in Carla’s class.

The Teacher’s Lounge offers much to think about in terms of information and who should be entitled to it.  Carla and the headmaster would prefer to keep things quiet pending the investigation but given Ms Kuhn is a much-admired member of the community, “Chinese whispers” start spreading in online group chats and frustrations are vented at a parent-teacher evening.  It’s a powerful scene as we watch Carla defend the school’s actions with one hand metaphorically tied behind her back.  There’s not much she can say.

Another worthy issue to reflect upon are the reputational connections between a parent and their child.  With his mum suspected of wrongdoing, Oskar is ostracised by fellow students, and his persona and grades take a negative shift.  This poses further questions of the audience around the subjects of regret and forgiveness as Carla starts to rethink her approach.  She may have firm proof of Ms Kuhn stealing money but if it’s the child who suffers, is it the right outcome?  Adding further drama are teachers upset with Carla that she would use her laptop to spy in the first place.

Featuring a slew of authentic performances and realistic conversations, I can now see why The Teacher’s Lounge has resonated so powerfully.