Greetings again from the darkness. The intensity and stress of everyday life and of everyday people are on full display in this film from writer-director Iler Catak and co-writer Johannes Duncker. They have brilliantly crafted a terrific suspense thriller from the most unexpected setting and group of characters … a junior high school and the faculty and students.
Teacher Carla Nowak (Leone Benesch, THE WHITE RIBBON, “Babylon Berlin”) is new to the school, originally hailing from Poland. She’s the type of teacher who motivates students by having them think creatively and from different perspectives. We can immediately tell she’s as idealistic as she is passionate about her profession. When one of her students is accused of stealing money, she’s at odds with school principal Dr Bohm (Anne-Kathrin Gummich) on the interrogation of students, as well as the conference with the accused student’s parents.
It turns out there is quite an epidemic of theft and dishonesty at the school, and it extends to the titular teachers’ lounge where Carla herself witnesses an occurrence. Carla decides to set a trap using her laptop’s camera and her unattended wallet. When the camera ‘catches’ the sleeve of an unusual blouse print, Carla confronts the ‘obvious’ culprit, school administrator Ms. Kuhn (Eva Lobau), who adamantly denies the accusation. Further complicating matters, Carla shows the video to Dr Bohm, who promptly suspends Ms. Kuhn, who also happens to be the mother of Carla’s favorite student, Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch).
Carla’s best intentions seem to backfire at every turn. She believes in right and wrong, and also in forgiveness and second chances (especially for kids). Her anxiety heightens at each misstep, whether by her, the administration, or students. Soon, even Oskar is lashing out and threatening her, despite Carla’s attempt to shield him. Many find Carla’s use of the laptop camera more offensive than the actual theft, and the student newspaper journalists seize on this opportunity to incite rebellion and independence.
Much of what we witness on screen is the result of actions taken out of our sightline – we are left to make assumptions right alongside Carla. Film Editor Gesa Jager deserves special recognition for keeping us just a bit off balance. Emptying the teacher’s coffee fund, cheating on a test, defying the truth … all of these (and more) actions are used by filmmaker Catak in delivering a snapshot of a society where we no longer trust one another. Morality, integrity, misplaced concern, racism, classism … these all play a role here in delivering the message. Leone Benesch is exceptional in the lead role, and Eva Lobau goes full throttle in her attempts to show she was wronged. It’s a Rubik’s Cube that serves up our final message, as well as providing some hope that good intentions do sometimes pay off. Yesterday, it was announced that the film has been Oscar nominated for Best International Feature Film. A well-deserved honor.
Opens in theaters on January 26, 2024