Friday, June 14, 2024

The Teachers’ Lounge movie review (2023)

Leonie Benesch (of “The Crown”) plays Carla Nowak, a Polish emigre teaching English and physical education. She’s an idealist about education and the obligation of citizens to look out for each other. She’s a do-gooder—a bit nosy, but mostly in a constructive way. When one her kids gets hauled out of class to be accused of stealing (due to an anonymous tip about the unusual amount of cash he has in his wallet) Carla has to sit in on a conference with the boy and his parents as they explain that they gave him the money so he could buy a videogame and suggest that it’s racism (they’re Turkish) that put them in this humiliating situation.

It seems like a convincing explanation. Carla believes it. But the event only deepens her feelings of vulnerability, so the next time she’s on break in the teachers’ lounge and has to leave it, she keeps her laptop open with the video camera secretly running. When Carla returns, she finds cash missing from her wallet, and a check of the recording shows somebody taking it while she was out of the room. 

And it’s here that the movie refines its paranoid thriller aesthetic: just as you never saw the lodging of the accusation against the boy, much less whether he stole cash from somebody else, you also don’t really see who stole Carla’s money, just one sleeve of a blouse with a star pattern on it. The same kind of blouse was worn by a staffer working in an office just a few feet away from the teachers’ lounge, and she could have seen Carla leave the lounge because she had a plain view of it through a large plate-glass window. We side with Carla when she identifies this woman as the thief because honestly, what are the odds that two women in a not-large school wore the same distinctive blouse that day? 

But as the film goes on and the complications pile up, we start to doubt our certainty, as does Carla, who quickly starts to wish that she’d kept her mouth shut, about the stealing and pretty much everything else. The staffer that she accused has a boy in her class, and the boy is understandably distraught and angry when his mother is suspended pending an investigation. It appears that he then orchestrates a campaign to defame her in the eyes of his classmates in her parents; I write “appears” because even though the boy specifically warns Carla to apologize to his mother or suffer consequences, we aren’t privy to what, if anything, he actually did to make good on this promise. Throughout, Çatak gives us a lot of closeups of various characters that make us think, “That person is lying” or “That person is a thief” or simply “That person is again Carla,” but the movie is so firmly rooted in Carla’s point-of-view that we doubt our own assessments as often as she does. (As it turns out, Carla put herself in career jeopardy just by making the recording: apparently there’s a law or rule against unauthorized personal surveillance on the property, and she broke it.)

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HomeReviewsThe Teachers’ Lounge movie review (2023)

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