Review by Sean Boelman
The Teachers’ Lounge debuted at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival to strong reviews and has since earned Germany’s submission for the Best International Film Oscar. Although the film might seem quaint by its premise, director Ilker Çatak has managed to make something unexpected out of it.
The movie shows the impact that reverberates throughout a school when a teacher accuses one of her colleagues of theft. While the story is certainly very intimate and small in scale, expert direction from Çatak will keep the viewer consistently engaged and reaffirms viewers of the intense stakes.
Without a doubt, the best part of the film is its pacing, which will keep viewers on the edge of their seats for the entirety of the ninety-odd-minute runtime. Although the movie is not exactly a thriller, the story unfolds in a way that you could almost mistake it for one, concluding in an explosive final act at once feels frustrating and like the natural conclusion to this story.
It’s interesting to see that — in a year with so many films set in the educational system dealing with timely themes — Çatak and Johannes Duncker’s script deals with something much more timeless. Although there are some uniquely 21st century themes on display here (unauthorized recording being the most prominent), the movie is less focused on the setting than the connections that bind its characters.
Çatak and Duncker do an extraordinary job of giving us characters that are tremendously nuanced. The decisions made by the characters are often frustrating, but the film deals in the empathetic humanity of their actions. Even more interesting is the fact that the audience is not asked to pick a side, instead being shown the tragic aftermath for all parties.
Leonie Benesch’s performance in the lead role is utterly gripping. She plays the character with a level of restraint, yet also a palpable anger, imbuing it with a sense of verisimilitude that is essential for the movie to have its emotional impact. Also impressive is young actor Leonard Settnisch, who gives a quiet but often powerful turn.
Çatak has exquisite control over the film from a directorial standpoint, working with his collaborators to create a consistently unnerving atmosphere. Judith Kaufmann’s camera is wonderfully fluid, often making the viewer feel claustrophobia through prolonged close-ups. And Marvin Miller’s score does a great job of heightening the viewer’s suspense.
The Teachers’ Lounge is an unexpectedly great movie, taking its somewhat simple premise and making an absolutely captivating film out of it. From great performances to strong direction, it’s truly engrossing and unexpected. If this does not end up in the slate of nominees for the International Film Oscar, the Academy will have made a massive mistake.
The Teachers’ Lounge screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.