The Teachers’ Lounge review: Leonie Benesch is sensational in this unlikely white-knuckle thriller

A teacher finds herself at centre of prejudice, complacency and institutional failings in this suspenseful German drama

The Teachers’ Lounge
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Director: Ilker Çatak
Cert: 12A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Eva Löbau, Leonie Benesch, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak
Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins

It’s an unlikely set-up for a white-knuckle thriller. Ilker Çatak’s nervy Oscar nominee follows an idealistic young teacher, Carla Nowak – a sensational Leonie Benesch – who is hoping to make a difference. She does, but not in the way that she intended.

Carla, who is of Polish descent, is quick to come to the defence of her student Ali (Can Rodenbostel), the son of Turkish immigrants, when he is accused of a series of thefts at the school. She understandably rails against heavy-handed tactics that include interrogation and student searches, and is especially dismayed when her colleagues Milosz (Rafael Stachowiak) and Thomas (Michael Klammer) encourage students to tattle on their classmates.

Escalating tensions, amplified by Marvin Miller’s unnerving violin score, are compounded by sensitivities (and insensitivities) to race and class. Carla is already marginalised by her high-mindedness and origins when she sets a trap in the hope of confirming the true thief’s identity.

The sleeve of a polka-dot blouse leads her to an office administrator, Ms Kuhn (Eva Löbau), who is irate when confronted. There are distinct echoes of Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct when Kuhn’s son Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch), a sensitive student in Carla’s maths class, becomes increasingly disruptive. Thanks to her illicit recording, Carla then comes under investigation herself.


The script, by Johannes Duncker and director Ilker Çatak, grabs the viewer from the get-go. Judith Kaufmann’s urgent, claustrophobic cinematography tightens the vice-like grip. Dark, angular shifts in lighting and production design signal the heroine’s unravelling. It feels appropriate that Benesch, who made her feature debut in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, finds herself at the centre of a dramatic knot of prejudice, complacency and institutional failings.

The Teachers’ Lounge is on limited release from Friday, April 12th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic