TIFF 2023 | The Teachers’ Lounge (Ilker Çatak, Germany) — Centrepiece

By Josh Lewis

The hermetic, ensemble classroom setting has long served as an easy access point for filmmakers to make microcosmic sociological observations about The State of Things, or locate that particularly stressful, malleable time when people are typically having their first experiences with complex adult interactions, institutional politics, and rebellion. The Teachers’ Lounge splits the difference, following Carla (a wonderfully wide-eyed and paralyzed with fear Leonie Benesch), a devoted, idealistic junior high teacher who genuinely cares about the educational and social success of her students. So much so that she quickly finds her interests at odds with the faculties series of paranoid “rogue regime, raid-style” frisking operations to identify an ambiguous, transgressive thief among the students. This uncomfortable process is creating a rippling effect of hurt and mistrust throughout the social fabric of the school and eventually results in concerned WhatsApp PTA meeting chaos, various expulsions and firings, and ostracized, violent children.Director Ikler Çatak tries to formally spin this equally provocative and reductive material on the page in a way that it effectively operates as both a parable about a dogmatic, hysterical culture around money, power, xenophobia, the press, and “false allegations” and a modern festival-ready indie-thriller complete with locked-in Academy ratio compositions, an anxious string-plucking horror soundtrack, and lots of muted, shallow focus real-time photography of the step-by-step cumulative, spiraling consequences of Carla’s mistaken attempts to take matters into her own detective hands. Unfortunately, due to trying to squeeze such complex subject matter into clean, tightly wound thriller logic, The Teachers’ Lounge frequently ends up on the wrong side of feeling algorithmic and pre-digested for the op-eds it hopes to inspire. But when it’s not trying too hard to underline its message and simply sinks into Carla’s shocked series of immediate actions and reactions, it’s a psychologically tense depiction of the lone individual trying and failing to maintain personal moral sanctity and resist the very real institutional pressure towards prejudice and punishment that certainly exists far beyond the classroom.

jlewis@cinema-scope.com Lewis Josh