Frau Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) stands in front of her class. A student volunteers a solution to the mathematical problem on the board. Carla responds, ‘Is that proof, or an assertion?’ This question will come to haunt Carla later, when it re-emerges in the school’s socio-political context, far messier than mathematics. At this point, director Ilker Çatak unambiguously declares his film’s central concern. What follows is an unravelling of Carla’s authority and moral certainty.
The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer) proves to be an engrossing, unsettling study of the challenges of living within a system that depends on uneven power dynamics. Çatak focuses tightly on the social order of the school, with the entirety of the film unfolding there. The restricted setting heightens the suspense. When teachers ask two representatives from Carla’s class which of their classmates might be responsible for a recent series of thefts, we sense that something is rotten here. Not long afterwards, Carla’s class is interrupted by a search and the Turkish-German Ali is found with a ‘suspicious’ amount of cash in his wallet. His parents are called into the school for what seems like an interrogation.