Though filmed in Hamburg, Germany’s nominee for a best international film Oscar hit home, reminding me of circumst
ances I faced decades ago when working in a school district. People in a wing of the building experienced a rash of thefts, small amounts of cash taken from wallets. A co-worker and I laid a trap and got circumstantial evidence, enough to protect ourselves without putting out disruptive and possibly inaccurate accusations. That ends my story; in contrast, Ilker Çatak starts with a similar situation but moves on to create an entire feature film called The Teachers’ Lounge. Rather than stop after a suspect turns up, Çatak adds a dimension of accusation and asks the question, “what happens without absolute proof?” The idealistic and newbie teacher of the film discovers that like the mathematics formulas she presents to her class, getting answers often seems puzzling. Co-writing the screenplay with Johannes Duncker, director Çatak puts big ideas into a little film, keeping production values low key and natural. A single school serves as lone setting, with no need for elaborate sets or costumes. He puts more emphasis on finding effective performers like Leonie Benesch, who looks appropriately youthful but boasts an impressive resume in projects like The White Ribbon and Berlin Babylon. Walking and moving with enthused purpose, she captures her character’s innate goodness, discovering the frustration that life often imposes. The world she moves in includes a system of processes that might not fly in U.S. schools. Those specifics aside, The Teachers’ Lounge ultimately and intelligently focuses on more symbolic issues in a world where rules and formulas often fail to achieve the desired solution.