“The Teachers’ Room”: a gripping thriller filmed behind closed doors in a German college

Presented for the first time at the Berlinale in 2023, The Teachers’ Room , fourth feature film by German director Ilker Çatak, competes on Sunday March 10 for the Oscar for best foreign film, alongside Perfect Days , by Wim Wenders, or The Zone of Interest , of Jonathan Glazer, two very prominent filmmakers. Filmed behind closed doors in Hamburg, this gripping thriller questions the excesses of good thinking in a so-called “progressive” college where the staff especially tends to lack discernment.

Determined to outline the contours of a society that fears nuance and takes little account of particular cases, La Salle des profs sifts through misleading information, the culture of cancellation, the media hype, the approximate judgments, the “ moraline”… All this produces a feeling of injustice and places the spectator in a permanent state of alert.

Following a series of thefts in a college, the principal asks the students to open their wallets. Disgusted by this method – more insidious than a proper search – and the accusations made against a student of Turkish origin, Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch, actress seen in The White Ribbon , by Michael Haneke , and the series The Crown ), a mathematics and physical education teacher, leaves her computer camera running to catch the culprit. While she tries to do her best to spare the latter, her family but also the parents of the students turn against her.

A society in miniature

If we leave it at that, the plot could easily be reduced to the case of conscience of an idealistic teacher who believes in the values of dialogue and group cohesion through learning the things of life. The film aims further. Taken as a whole, the college evokes a society in miniature, with its organs of political and judicial power, its parties, its media (the college newspaper), its communities, its generations, etc.

Nowak finds herself caught in a tangle of traps where each emergency exit seems to be double-locked. From then on, the staging proceeds from a face-to-face encounter between the professor, whose nuanced remarks remain inaudible to the proponents of political correctness, and the rest of the college, caught in an unstoppable trance which pushes them to work without to reflect on. This philosophical fable about single-mindedness also says a lot about the “ordinary” racism against Poles (Carla Nowak comes from a Polish family in Westphalia, speaks English and Polish fluently, etc.) underway in Germany.

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