The Teachers’ Lounge(German)

Starring Leonie Benesch, Eva Löbau

Directed by İlker Çatak

Rating: *** ½

The Teachers Lounge is that bolt from the blue that shows up once every year or two claiming a place among the great cinema .

The greatness of The Teachers’ Lounge(German: Das Lehrerzimmer)lies not so much in the core plot(which in itself is quite striking) but in the way first-time director İlker Çatak aligns the student forces in the classroom as some kind of an intellectual army. They are shown to crack open codes connected to subtle discrimination and other transgression emerging from the teachers’ staffroom, deconstruct these and mobilize their young minds into tackling the problems faced by marginalized students .

There is a Turkish(Muslim) child in the classroom whom the school administration accuses of theft just because he has cash in his wallet. His fellow students see this as racial discrimination, and their class teacher Carla(Leonie Benesch) supports the accused boy and his mother.

Then Carla upright virtuous and a little too stubborn to be considered an upholder of the truth, is herself in the dock when she accuses a member of the academic staff Friederike Kuhn(Eva Löbau) of stealing from her wallet.

The crisis is not as black-and-white as it seems. Carla had planted a spy video to catch the thief. Her very modus operandi is under question.Is Carla a champion of justice or just a nosy annoying busybody? Leonie Benesch plays Carla both ways. She is at once a seeker of the truth and a bit of an attention seeker. Either way, the actress is a fabulous choice for the role.This is the first time I have seen her impressive work, and I want to see more.

But even she would have to admit that the film clearly belongs to the students. These children are so uninhibited by the presence of a camera that they seem to be part of an actual classroom. I don’t know how the director did it. But this is among the finest depictions of student conflict,and that too at such a young age, seen in cinema of any language.

The film’s core conflict is between Carla and Kuhn’s son who studies in Carla’s class and who is hellbent on proving his mother’s innocence. This, outwardly, is not a battle of equals. But then when has life dealt just blows on those who dare to question the status quo?