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Film Review: THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE (2023): Ilker Çatak Directs Leonie Benesch in a Superb Performance in a Tense, Probing German Drama

Leonie Benesch The Teachers Lounge

The Teachers’ Lounge Review

The Teachers’ Lounge (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Ilker Çatak, written by Johannes Duncker and Ilker Çatak and starring Leonie Benesch, Leonard Stettnisch, Eva Löbau, Michael Klammer, Uygar Tamer, Özgür Karadeniz and Sarah Bauerett.

When it comes to intense drama, the new German film directed by Ilker Çatak, The Teachers’ Lounge, simply doesn’t let up. The movie stars Leonie Benesch as Carla Nowak, a fairly new teacher at what seems like an every day middle school for pre-teens. These kids are ambitious, for the most part, and are well aware of what is going on around them. When Carla seems to believe that one of the students at the school has stolen money, all hell breaks loose and the lives of both the teachers and the students of the school will be altered significantly.

Carla hasn’t been at the school featured in the movie too long. She is trying to fit in the best she can. As a character, she does what she thinks is right and just, but she has a lot to learn about life. As the plot develops, a student becomes accused of stealing. When the kid is found to have a lot of money on him, this child’s parents come to his defense and claim they gave him the money to buy a computer game. Things get even more complicated when a female school employee named Friederike Kuhn (Eva Löbau) also becomes accused of stealing money, this time in the teachers’ lounge. Friederike has a child in the school named Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch) whose life becomes affected by the accusations brought against his mother. Oskar is in Carla’s class. There is also a video which has partially captured the identity of the thief and exists as a McGuffin within the film that propels the plot into motion but isn’t fully dealt with by the time the ending credits have rolled since something happens to that video along the way.

The Teachers’ Lounge knows kids and doesn’t pretend they’re simply innocent as the adults around them argue about the situations that ensue in the movie. When we are shown the students at the school newspaper, for example, the female editor is portrayed as a no-nonsense type and, since these kids are hungry for the truth, they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

As a teacher named Thomas Liebenwerda, Michael Klammer’s somewhat paranoid portrayal of this character is right on the money. Thomas feels threatened when the students put out a newspaper article that suggests there could be racism going on in the facility. The faculty of the school must protect their place against the students who threaten to expose things that seem to be going on in the background in regards to Carla getting Oskar’s mom in trouble. Oskar wants to see the video and gets quite aggressive. It’s not a pretty picture. As the faculty tries to temporarily suspend Oskar, he and his mom (who has already been shown the door) seem to have other plans.

Benesch’s performance is almost the whole show here. We’re with her every step of the picture even though she makes some huge mistakes in the story line. One such error is when she speaks to the school newspaper for an interview telling them things that are on her mind that she really should be talking to a therapist about. Carla is flawed to a reasonable extent but also has that human quality about her that makes us understand why she makes the choices and mistakes she does.

Tension is built throughout the picture in an every day situation that seems mundane on the surface but it is the mental anguish that results within the characters in the film that causes everything to blow out of proportion. This film builds this suspense like a roller coaster, starting off slow and then picking up the pace until there is no turning back. 

One particular scene late in the movie has Carla screaming in front of her class and asking her class to scream along with her. It’s a moment of genius in a movie that has a lot of intelligence and depth. You’ll want to yell at the screen and tell Carla what to do many times throughout the film. This character never would listen to the advice you may have for her, but rather she charts her own course and suffers the consequences as a result.

Stettnisch, as Oskar, is a believable child actor and the film makes him convincingly intense as a character. While a scene where he gets overly aggressive and ultimately steals Carla’s laptop feels a bit too overly dramatic, given the real-life situations we read about in the papers, anything can happen in the context of a school setting. Maybe Carla’s choices to leave her class alone at certain points and run after Oskar are more implausible than the actual aggression itself which occurs.

The Teachers’ Lounge is an intense ride with plenty of intriguing plot developments which will keep the viewer riveted every step of the way. It’s also a showcase for the fine talent that is Leonie Benesch. She deserves an Oscar nomination for her multi-faceted, complex and relatable performance, but the movie comes in a rather crowded year for actresses. Still, The Teachers’ Lounge wholeheartedly deserves a Best International Feature Film nod come Academy Award nomination time.

Rating: 9/10

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