Carbon Arc Cinema review: The Teachers’ Lounge

I am the Artistic Director at Carbon Arc Cinema, whose mandate is to show the best in Canadian, international and documentary film. I’m part of a group of programmers who choose what we screen.

Directed by Ilker Çatak | Written by Çatak and Johannes Duncker | 98 min | Carbon Arc Cinema 

An idealistic young teacher (Leonie Benesch, fantastic) is a new hire at a grade school in Germany. Already she seems to have earned the attention and respect of her students. A series of thefts in the school has turned her into a bit of a detective, and we’re very much on board, seduced by her cleverness. Through smart directorial choices and editing, the film immediately drops us into a pacy, intense workplace thriller.

The stakes never feel terribly high with this Oscar-nominated film, and yet we are immediately invested. The thing is, the teacher’s decision to find the thief turns out to have unexpectedly negative side effects, diminishing her relationship with her fellow colleagues, many deeply cynical from years in the profession and locked in passive-aggressive patterns, and her actually aggressive students, including an outstanding young man with a deep grudge against her.

The camera glides around the school, following our instructor from classroom to the titular lounge and back, never offering much of the teacher’s personal life: all she has is her career, which is now in jeopardy.  The suspense continues to ratchet, approaching Uncut Gems levels of sweaty tension. As she’s challenged at all sides, she holds tightly to her values and professional decorum. She’s a fantastic protagonist, steadfast even while beset on all sides, at least partly due to her own mistake.

By the film’s conclusion, the mystery of who the thief is becomes a lot less important than issues the story brings up relating to trust, privacy, and the rights of children. The school ends up being a microcosm of a society in deep discomfort — quick to judge, quick to anger, and missing a lot in the way of compassion and empathy while passing on that lack to the next generation.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.