What happens in the teachers’ lounge, anyway? When we were kids, that closed door seemed so tantalizingly forbidding, though it probably only hid some coffee-sipping, light chitchat and paper-grading.
Well, not in the brilliantly taut and absorbing The Teachers’ Lounge, in which that room — and gradually, the whole school around it — hosts an expanding web of uneasy power dynamics, mutual suspicion and misinformation, and that’s just for starters. This film also explores cancel culture, institutional racism, privacy rights and even censorship and press freedom.
That’s a lot for one middle school. But writer-director Ílker Çatak pulls it off, aided by excellent performances all around and two truly superb ones: Leonie Benesch as an idealistic new teacher and a heartbreaking Leo Stettnisch as her troubled student. (The film, Germany’s submission to the Academy Awards, has justifiably made the short list for best international feature.)
The Teachers’ Lounge dives immediately into the controversy that will tear this modern, bustling school apart. Carla Nowak (Benesch) is called to an uncomfortable meeting between school officials and two student representatives of her sixth-grade class. The students are being grilled as to which fellow classmates may have been responsible for a series of thefts — essentially, they’re being asked to denounce friends without evidence. Carla is angry at the tactic, but lacks the confidence to speak out.