TIFF 2023: The Teachers’ Lounge Review

German Oscar bid could be the film to beat

Anyone who thought that last year’s Oscar winner All Quiet on the Western Front was intense should mentally prepare for The Teachers’ Lounge. The film, which is Germany’s submission in the Oscar race for Best International Feature after besting All Quiet at the German Film Awards earlier this year, is a full-throttle character study that sees its protagonist navigate a similarly tricky minefield. Leonie Benesch stars in a tour-de-force performance as Carla, a Polish teacher at a German public school experiencing a string of petty thefts. After school staff subjects Carla’s students to a search, the idealistic teacher stages her own sting operation. She leaves some money in her coat in the staff room. Her laptop sits open with the webcam on record.

Once Carla confronts the likely suspect, though, everything spirals out of control. Carla, the victim of the theft, becomes the object of suspicion. Benesch creates a strong-willed character who fights against a tired system. As she perseveres and pushes for justice, Carla also keeps her students’ goodwill in mind. She encounters roadblocks of malaise, indifference, and protocols from school staff who don’t want to disrupt the status quo.

An Intense Psychological Study

Director lker Çatak keeps the action quick and the story propulsive. The Teachers’ Lounge wastes not a second or frame in its gripping 93 minutes. Taut academy ratio framing ups the psychological ante, too, as Carla barely has room to breathe. The film will have audiences gasping for breath, enrapt in suspense as Carla loses control of the story and it assumes a life of its own. Çatak illustrates how context and nuance fall out of the conversation these days. There’s little chance to contain a narrative once it filters through the broken phone line, and The Teacher’s Lounge provides a striking metaphor for the battles of (mis)information wars in the age of social media and cancel culture. It’s quite astonishing the impact of a viral video few people have seen.

The Teachers’ Lounge adds compelling dramatic stakes to Carla’s story by observing the impact of the school’s failure on the students. Young actor Leonard Stettnisch holds his own with Benesch as Carla’s student Oskar, who becomes the school’s fall guy. The irony is that Oskar is clearly Carla’s favourite student and one who directly benefits from the care that she gives her class. The ultimate theft in the school is not Carla’s ten Euros, but a child’s future. Shattered, too, is idealism of the one teacher who takes his interest to heart. Congratulations, Germany, on your consecutive Oscars.



The Teachers’ Lounge screened as part of TIFF 2023, which ran from September 7 to 17. 

Head here for more from the festival.

It opens in theatres later this year.