Powder keg in the classroom

LET it all out! Leonie Benesch is Carla Nowak, the teacher, in The Teachers’ Lounge, on this year’s European Film Festival South Africa. It screens on 20 October at The Labia Theatre in Cape Town. Photograph courtesy imdb.

OVER THE LAST few years, our social world has become so painstakingly aware of the possibility of offending others, that something has been lost in our ability to be candid. This sensitive nerve in contemporary society is explored excruciatingly in The Teachers’ Lounge featuring Leonie Benesch. It’s on this year’s European Film Festival, and is not available online, but will still enjoy a screening in Cape Town at the The Labia Theatre on 20 October, at 6pm.

And here we meet Carla Nowak (Benesch). She’s a new teacher in a German school and, working with a group of Grade 6s, she seeks to know each child and to look each in the eye when she addresses them, assesses their strengths and weaknesses. She’s at pains to silence their exuberant noise-making with rhyme and keep them focused with poetic gestures. She’s pre-eminently well-intentioned and caring. But she comes from an old school of child awareness, where the grown up is basically in charge.

The story is premised on a crime committed within the school. A theft of money. Accusations, secret recordings and mob tactics to uncover the culprit are clumsily handled and fly in the face of Nowak’s earnest attempts to be as gentle and non-accusatory as possible. A tale of a blouse decorated with yellow stars, the magic of the Rubik’s cube and a child with a mathematical sensibility far beyond that of his peers, this work touches implicitly on otherness of race and the universal discomfort in the act of snitching. It’s about dignity and fury as much as it touches the fabric of who owes what to whom and why.

Indeed, the children, young though they may be, close ranks. The staff do, too. Malice is perpetrated behind their own structures. Issues of privacy and political correctness see Carla becoming entrapped alone in a vortex of recriminations and anger which is as much about xenophobia and press bias as it would be in a big military story involving life and death. On this level, director Ilker Çatak’s film, which is cold and sterile on the eye, offers a potent and inflamed glance at a microcosm of a super-aware society, that can turn against its ostensible allies in the flick of an eye, and render hero, scapegoat without a second’s thought.

Cast with wisdom, but tending to be a little slow in some of its sequential developments, it’s a deeply troubling and important film about the nature of society, not only with all its contemporary foibles and taboos, but also with its history of damage, self-censorship discrimination and warfare inflicted. It will leave you a little depleted.

The Teachers’ Lounge is directed by Ilker Catak and features a cast headed by Sarah Bauerett, Leonie Benesch, Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Özgür Karadeniz, Michael Klammer, Eva Löbau, Rafael Stachowiak, Leonard Stettnisch, Uygar Tamer and Kathrin Wehlisch. Written by Johannes Duncker and Ilker Catak it is produced by Ingo Fliess and features creative input by Marvin Miller (music), Judith Kaufmann (cinematography), Gesa Jäger (editing) and Alexandra Montag (casting). In English, Turkish, German and Polish with English subtitles, it is part of the 10thEuropean Film Festival South Africa, and will be screened on 20th October at The Labia in Cape Town at 6pm.

1 reply »

Leave a Reply