School, just like any work environment or environment with people on it, seem easy to handle, but The Teachers’ Lounge shows that a basketball game is easier to handle than prosecuting a theft. The latest ‘victim’ in a series of workplace thefts is Carla Nowak (The White Ribbon‘s Leonie Benesch doing great work here). She becomes a ‘victim’ as she plants money on her wallet. She leaves for a long enough time to videotape the suspect red handed on her laptop’s webcam.
The ‘thief’ happens to be Friederike Kuhn (Eva Löbau), both a faculty member and a student’s mother. School becomes more difficult for Carla as her class divides itself between how they treat Friederike’s son Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch). Like mother like son, or are they, or does that matter? And of course, both Friederike and the students start telling the other parents about the incident.
Yes, The Teachers’ Lounge is about how a society deals with one’s transgressions, but it also beautifully unravels that violence, making it too big for one person to contain. Depending on how viewers see her, Carla is either an antihero or a protagonist. The film gives her that moral complexity even if her methods of finding the truth are suspect. Stealing is wrong but so is baiting a ‘criminal’. And yes, society needs order, but there’s a slippery slope between than and people policing each other.
Other critics frame Benesch’s character Carla as an idealistic character. However, that feels too simplistic in viewing someone doing what’s right. In a way, all people do what’s right. But as The Teacher’s Lounge progresses, it peels the idea of what’s right and wrong like an onion. A question from one of the parents is simple. “Ms. Nowak, what’s going on,” one of them asks, but the answer has its complexities beyond ‘”I caught a thief”.
The Teachers’ Lounge constantly changes its dynamics depending on whether or not the students are there. During the beginning, Carla and two other faculty members deal with the kids, which seem easy enough. It’s not the same, however, when the students put her on the hot seat. Her inability to talk about the incident is understandable to viewers but not to the other characters that the film paints differently.
Equally understandably, The Teachers’ Lounge show these other characters as people who want the truth and safety and they do so at the risk or prosecuting someone without due process. This is a film that argues successfully for doublespeak in İlker Çatak‘s script. In a similar vein, it shows the natural frustration against such doublespeak. The dynamic between students and teachers also remind me of Abbas Kiarostanmi’s Orderly Disorderly, which shows that adults are harder to corral than children.
There are few ways of looking at The Teachers’ Lounge that feel reductive, the first being that this is a film of meetings. But it makes those meetings tends and, as pretentious as this sounds, full of meaning. The second is that it’s reminiscent of that Big Lebowski about people who aren’t wrong, but here, it shows that that applies to society more than to an individual.
Watch İlker Çatak‘s The Teachers’ Lounge, Germany’s official submission to the Academy Awards this year, in select Canadian theatres.