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The Teacher's Lounge: A drama of theft, tension, and teaching

The Teacher’s Lounge is a lesson on tension, introducing the theft early on, the film slowly intensifies the suspicions and mistrust until it’s thick and suffocating.

Featured Image Courtesy of IMDb

By Max Bradley-Cole, Second Year, Film and Television

I just want to start off by saying that this otherwise deeply stressful film has one of the funniest lines of dialogue I’ve heard all year. “I want to know where I stand,” “You’re sitting in a chair”. Definitely let out the loudest cackle in the cinema.

Anyway, The Teacher’s Lounge, is a German drama directed by Ilker Catak. The film follows Carla Nowak, played by Leonie Benesch, a 7th grade teacher who takes it upon herself to investigate and discern the person responsible for the recent series of thefts plaguing her school. The crux of this film is symbolised in its opening scene, Carla Nowak stands in front of her class and tasks them with a proof, whether 0.999 recurring is the same as 1. One student, a young girl, volunteers to answer, claiming “actually It’s not the same number.”

“Then please come up to the board and show us why,” replies Ms. Nowak

The young student, Hatice, argues that if you subtract 0.999 recurring from 1, a remainder is still left over. In response, Ms Nowak turns to address the class, “what do you think? Is this proof or an assertion?” 

// Courtesy of IMDb //

At the back of the classroom, a young boy named Oskar raises his hand. As the other kids tease him, with one taunting “nerd alert”, he comes to the board and writes his proof, if 0.111 recurring is equal to 1/9, and 9 times 1/9 is 1, then 0.999 recurring is equal to 1. Ms Novak affirms Oskar’s answer, and again turns to the class and asserts that “proof needs a derivation. Step by step.” 

Boring maths aside, Carla Nowak declares that proof requires deduction. It needs logic, reason, and truth. Something that Carla tries so desperately to maintain as the facts of the school’s theft fall like sand through her fingers. In spite of Oskar’s proof, it still feels like that lingering remainder persists. That hypothetical, supposedly non-existent one at the end of those countless zeroes, symbolises Carla’s enduring uncertainty surrounding the theft, and this anxiety steadily eats away at her. Just like 0.999 recurring, this film gives you almost enough to feel that you’re whole and certain, yet it resists completion, the truth is missing, and it may never be found. 

The Teacher’s Lounge is a lesson on tension, introducing the theft early on, the film slowly intensifies the suspicions and mistrust until it’s thick and suffocating. At the heart of this tension is Benesch’s stellar performance, the raw redness of her skin, the tight muscles of her neck, the shallow terror of her breath. Benesch performance perfectly captures Carla’s desperate attempts to reconcile her paranoia with her genuine compassion for her students. Benesch’s facial expressions capture Carla’s façade of confidence; this guise occasionally falters and exposes a fragile inner turmoil that always seems narrowly shy of breaking point. Despite her strife, Carla remains an incredible teacher. She commands the classroom and even when she seems moments from falling apart, she pulls herself back together, regains her composure and enters the room, prepared for anything. 

// Courtesy of IMDb //

Catak’s depiction of teaching’s impossible balance and irreconcilable stresses is incredible and fully realised. In this film, as in real life, the challenges strike teachers at every angle. The children are kind yet selfish, attentive yet obstinate, and naïve yet manipulative. The parents are trying their best but end up unwittingly pig-headed. Teachers must walk the impossibly thin line between adequately caring for their children whilst maintaining boundaries and appeasing senior leadership. And on top of all this, they must navigate this mess whilst underpaid, understaffed, and underappreciated. These challenges echo the UK’s own state school short fallings, and if the comparatively well-funded school depicted in this film is facing similar mounting issues, then it begs the question, is teaching in Europe a fundamentally broken system?

It's remarkable how a film limited to the setting of a single school, can so effectively capture the widespread incompetence of those in power and their unending neglect of the public.

Did you catch The Teacher's Lounge?