Review: Leonie Benesch is absolutely wonderful and upsetting in The Teachers’ Lounge, but the script doesn’t live up to those same heights. Is the movie thrilling? Yes! Lacking a concise worldview and motive? Kinda.
The Teachers’ Lounge serves as an occasionally visceral and riveting allegory for societal living, all compounded by a central performance rivaling many of the greats in 2023. I bumped up against quite a bit that happens in the latter half of this movie, but Leonie Benesch as seventh grade teacher Carla Nowak always holds the frame in a remarkable way.
It takes the movie a bit to engineer the plot into fruition. Someone has stolen Ms. Nowak’s belongings, and it’s not until the first 30 minutes have passed that she reviews her own personal recording and thinks she may have found the culprit. But after asking for her items to be returned by the perpetrator, the situation spirals out of control and eventually involves the entire school and student body. Nowak is presented as the idyllic and understanding teacher in the school, and the fact that everything seems to negatively impact her adds to this sense of dread that lingers over the entirety of The Teachers’ Lounge.
But there’s a lot of belief that you have to suspend in order to take The Teachers’ Lounge at face value. There are not necessarily plot holes in İlker Çatak’s latest movie that absolutely pull you out of it, rather an overwhelming amount of moments that could’ve been handled better and more efficiently by every character involved. Getting into them may expose my own beliefs in how to raise and teach a child (two experiences I’m glad I haven’t had to work through quite yet), but it’s hard not to place yourself in the shoes of the protagonist here and feel as if the movie is straining hard to create the circumstances that it does.
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Which is why I found Michael Klammer’s supporting performance as Mr. Liebenwerda (Nowak’s coworker responsible for teaching another class) to be so compelling. They aren’t necessarily the antithesis of one another, but their styles of handling crisis are fascinating when paired up with one another. They butt heads, but they have a common understanding of the role that teachers play in children growing up. I wish there was much more of that in The Teachers’ Lounge, but it strays away from this plotline and Michael Klammer too much to make a real impact.
And I found the ending to not dig deep enough. I don’t need answers to all of the tension that İlker Çatak has built over the course of a fraught 90 minutes, but there is such a lack of catharsis that I struggle to take this movie’s themes after my first watch. And I can’t say that I found it believable enough to want to get through it again. It’s as if The Teachers’ Lounge is trying to make a grand statement on the frustrating and painfully insincere world that we live in, and by doing so becomes an incredibly frustrating and insincere film itself.
The movie is a fascinating watch nevertheless. It’s certainly worth giving your attention at least once, and I’ve seen a lot of folks that genuinely loved it. It’s up for the Best International Picture Oscar, so there’s clearly a crowd. Leonie Benesch is absolutely wonderful and upsetting in this one, but the script doesn’t live up to those same heights. Thrilling? Yes! Lacking a concise worldview and motive? Kinda.
See The Teachers’ Lounge in theaters
The Teachers’ Lounge Cast and Credits
Leonie Benesch as Carla Nowak
Leonard Stettnisch as Oskar
Michael Klammer as Thomas Liebenwerda
Eva Löbau as Friederike Kuhn
Rafael Stachowiak as Milosz Dudek
Director: İlker Çatak
Cinematography: Judith Kaufmann
Editor: Gesa Jäger
Composer: Marvin Miller