Rules Are Rules

The Teacher’s Lounge

by George Wolf

“What happens in the teacher’s lounge, stays in the teacher’s lounge.”

Mrs. (Carla) Nowak uses that line as a condescending quip to avoid some pointed questions from her students’ even as she’s starting to desperately wish it were true.

Carla (Leonie Benesch, fantastic) teaches 12-year-olds at a German grade school. Carla exchanges small talk with her fellow teachers, and doesn’t look away when she notices one who helps herself to what’s in the office coffee fund jar just minutes after Carla donated some change.

It’s a small but meaningful moment that writer/director Ilker Çatak uses to effectively illustrate Carla’s idealism, and to foreshadow her coming clash with reality.

The conflict begins to simmer when Carla witnesses two other teachers try to coerce some “good” students into naming who they think might be behind the recent rash of thefts at the school. Carla objects to the line of questioning, and reacts by using her wallet and laptop camera to set a trap and expose the guilty party.

What follows is a tense and utterly fascinating parable of accusation, distrust, paranoia and anger that has garnered an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature. Çatak crafts the school community as a Petri dish of contrasting agendas, one where teachers, students and parents fight for claims on the moral high ground.

Benesch is simply wonderful. Carla’s care for her students is never in doubt, but as the gravity of her situation begins to dawn on her, Benesch often only needs her wide eyes and tightened jawline to deliver Carla’s increasingly desperate mix of emotions.

As perspectives change, you may be reminded of Ruben Östlund’s insightful Force Majeure. But with The Teacher’s Lounge, Çatak moves the conversation to how the tribal nature of modern society can lead to separate realities, and how quickly those dug-in heels can be weaponized.

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