Connect with us
İlker Çatak The Teachers’ Lounge


The Teachers’ Lounge | 2023 Berlin Film Festival Review

The Teachers’ Lounge | 2023 Berlin Film Festival Review

Dangerous Finds: Catak Mines the Impossibility of Idealism in Departmental Dilemma

The Teachers’ Lounge İlker ÇatakSometimes maintaining the semblance of a ‘safe space’ means sublimating self-righteousness, a lesson learned too late by the hyper-idealistic protagonist in The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer), the compelling third feature from German director İlker Çatak. A contemporary portrait of how a catch-22 situation decimates the ability for a well-intentioned teacher’s ability to do the right thing, it’s also a sly portrait of displacement, navigating the experience of adhering to a host culture as an outsider.

Compelling, especially in its ability to remain anxiety laden throughout the entirety of its running time, the film allows lead actor Leonie Benesch (who appeared in Haneke’s The White Ribbon and played Princess Cecile in “The Crown”) a breakout performance as a young educator both frustrating and refreshing to behold. Although the predicament presented in the narrative doesn’t allow for any kind of satisfying resolution, it’s a reminder of how easily the human element muddies or perverts the predispositions of bureaucratic regulations.

Carla Nowak (Benesch) is a beloved teacher at her German school, dividing her time between teaching mathematics and physical education to preadolescents who seemingly favor her over her gruff and jaded colleagues. She’s dismayed how her male students are interrogated and searched as a way to detect who might be responsible for stealing money from the staff, seemingly an ongoing problem. When a Turkish boy is questioned for the amount of money in his wallet, the anguish it causes makes motivates Ms. Nowak, taking matters into her own hands.

Leaving her laptop open in the teachers’ lounge to see if anyone will rifle through the cash filled wallet she’s left in her overcoat, she captures footage of the culprit’s arm, wearing a patterned top which belongs to the school’s secretary (whose son is in Ms. Nowak’s class). Immediately, she tries to confront the secretary herself, which immediately goes sideways, and the situation quickly escalates when Ms. Nowak shows the footage to the principal. But her recording is technically illegal, and Ms. Nowak isn’t prepared for the explosive vitriol which ensues.

İlker Çatak The Teachers’ Lounge

Benesch carries the galvanizing weight of The Teachers’ Lounge on her shoulders, playing the hell out of Carla Nowak, a Polish transplant in her first teaching job, as passionate about mathematics as she is physical education. Her students respond to her zeal in kind, even following her cornball call to order with which she begins every class. One could see Mia Wasikowska playing this role in an English language remake considering its universal appropriation of how impossible it is to stand firm against a system destined to wear down its participants almost immediately. The situation she finds herself in is almost uncommonly convenient, her star pupil being the son of the school secretary, who is most certainly the pesky thief who’s been stealing from the staff. In hindsight, how she single handedly sleuths for answers ends up harming her students and her colleagues, and thus she’s a classic example of being victim to one’s own hubris. Ironically, in spite of her honorable intentions. Because she refuses to play the same game as her colleagues, she’s left vulnerable to the seething storm of parents, an angry mob who choose to believe their children aren’t secretly hellions who run wild at any conceivable opportunity.

Although gripping, it’s a difficult smear campaign to witness, especially as the student body Carla so devotedly defends (likely because her age allows her to overtly associate with their lack of agency) also remains keen on sabotaging her. At the point where the student paper insists on interviewing her in the midst of the growing controversy, one wonders if the imperiously noble teacher has any sense of self-preservation.

İlker Çatak The Teachers’ Lounge

As the fallout rages uncontrollably, The Teachers’ Lounge arguably has nowhere to go beyond providing a lose-lose situation for all involved, a grim lesson in adhering to established guidelines or else collapse irrevocably into a witch hunt which will consume and alter the course of all involved. While it’s Benesch’s film all the way, Michael Klammer makes an increasingly coercive impression as a colleague who seems less inclined to side with the student body, even if it means creating a different kind of ethical grey zone.

Reviewed on February 18th at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival – Panorama section. 94 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top