Leonie Benesch is stunning as Carla, a new junior high teacher who has just arrived at a German school out of college when she’s stuck in a growing controversy. It starts when things go missing from the teachers’ lounge, leading the faculty to suspect a student. From the beginning, determining the identity of the thief is problematic, both in how fingers are pointed and how interrogations are handled. Carla makes enemies among other staff members by commenting on what feels like racial profiling when a Turkish student is targeted, but everything shifts when she sets up her laptop to record. She captures what looks like her colleague Friederike (Eva Löbau) committing the theft, sending the film into an alternating dance of accusations and denials. Friederike insists she’s innocent, and her son Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch) brings the conflict directly into Carla’s classroom. As students begin an investigation into what they perceive as false accusations and illicit surveillance, the societal structure at this school crumbles.
“The Teachers’ Lounge” displays a confident management of pacing and tone, never resorting to monologuing or manufactured conflict. Every choice made by Carla, Oskar, and the staff feels emotionally logical, revealing how even the best of intentions can get derailed, and gives the film a natural momentum. The cinematography by Judith Kaufmann is as fluid as a thriller without ever being overly stylish. It may sound impossible for a film that takes place entirely at a German junior high to be one of the most thrilling of the year, but that’s the wonder of filmgoing. Sometimes, the impossible is true.
I don’t think anyone would call Viggo Mortensen’s “The Dead Don’t Hurt” thrilling, but there’s something comfortably entertaining about this old-fashioned Western, one that sometimes drifts from lyrical into languid, but also hums with the craftsmanship of its creator, who has assembled his best cast to date to tell this story of violence and heartbreak. Like a lot of actors-turned-directors, Mortensen clearly adores performance and character, grounding his genre piece in its people instead of what happens to them. Not only does he display his deftest hand as a filmmaker, but he gives a strong performance here, and he surrounds himself with people who really understand the assignment.