Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is a young math and gym teacher, new to this school and new to the job as a whole. What you can tell right away is that she seems to be a bit in over her head.
When the movie starts, you think she’s the Bee’s Knees (that’s the correct expression, right?) and liked by everyone, only to find that even the silent majority and younger students aren’t enamored with her. They can walk all over Ms. Nowak because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Well, that and she wants to give everyone, especially students, the benefit of the doubt. Not a bad thing, but here, she needs to get a spine and see what’s going on and act accordingly. She wants people to be treated correctly, a good thing, and desperately asks that everyone gets their opportunity to speak, no matter what they may have done or are being accused of. What more could you want in a teacher? She’s quite admirable. She just needs that spine, too. Does she get it?
We learn, in a rather confusing way because we’re not quite sure what is going on at first, that money keeps getting stolen from people at the school. The film jumps into some students in the faculty lounge being asked who they think has done it or is capable of stealing. Newcomer Carla Nowak is uncomfortable with the way the children are being interrogated. She’s not the only one. When the parents find out that their kids are being pulled aside and forced into “snitching” on one another without parental consent, which could get them isolated, disliked and hurt (mentally and physically), they let their voices be heard. In a parent/teacher meeting, it is Ms. Nowak who walks away with all the blame. They also don’t appreciate the lessons she’s giving the kids, spouting that they’re above their grade level. But there is reason for them to blame her for some of the troubles of late.
She tries her hand at playing sleuth and sets up a trap for the person doing it. Maybe it’ll get her points with everyone if SHE is the person catching the thief. She records something on her laptop and does see something. She goes directly to the staff member, stealing the money asking if they give it back and stop what they’re doing, all if forgiven and nothing will be said. This makes things worse, especially for Ms. Nowak. The staff member she accuses of pilfering the money from her jacket, Ms. Kuhn (Eva Löbau) with her video proof, is let go and may be prosecuted. Ms. Nowak only wanted to find the person at fault, not have it based on false accusations due to race as the direction the investigation seemed to have been heading.
Ms. Kuhn has a son, Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch) in her class. When she won’t help clear his mother’s name, he threatens his teacher. “You’ll apologize to her, in public, or suffer the consequences.” This sets you on the edge of your seat. Mass shootings have happened over less. Everyone in her classes stop listening to her. The teachers no longer have respect for her, believing she’s trying to protect a boy who should be suspended or sent to another school. His misbehavior toward her and at large doesn’t warrant his continuing his education there any longer. She refuses to let that happen. However, there’s a vote and there’s not much you can do when you’re not the loudest voice in the room.
When she says she’ll leave so that the child can stay, certain teachers have her back, but the majority of them turn on her. Allowing kids to do as they want and say what they want, and not refute suspicion, sets a bad precedent. She’s not thinking of the understaffed school now, only of herself. Ms. Nowak is very bright and comes up with ways of getting people to get along, but is it too late for her? Is it too late for Oskar and Ms. Kuhn?
This film is splendid and the acting, especially by the youngsters, is well done. I liked how it unfolded and its end result. It’s a clever storyline and it never slows, not for a moment, but no matter the ending, you’ll probably question how the system fell apart and ultimately failed in almost every way it could. This is one to watch just so you can answer that for yourself.
The Teachers’ Lounge
Original title: Das Lehrerzimmer
Directed by: Ilker Çatak
Written by: Ilker Çatak, Johannes Duncker
Starring: Leonie Benesch, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak, Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Eva Löbau, Leonard Stettnisch
Run Time: 1h 38m
Producer: Ingo Fliess
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Production Co: if… Productions, Arte, ZDF