Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is an enthusiastic new teacher at a middle school. She finds herself unexpectedly thrust into the middle of a controversy. Someone has been stealing, even from the teachers. The administration takes an aggressive approach. Principal Bettina Böhm (Anne-Kathrin Gummich) and teacher Milosz Dudek (Rafael Stachoviak) order all the 12-year-old boys in Nowak’s math class to empty their pockets. One of the boys, who is Turkish, has more cash than is considered normal. But when his parents are called in, it turns out there is a legitimate explanation: his parents gave him money to buy a video game that day. The parents are furious and accuse the school officials of racial discrimination.
Nowak is also shocked. When she sees office manager Friederike Kuhn (Eva Löbau) stealing from the teachers’ coffee fund piggy bank, she decides to do her own version of detective work. In the teachers’ lounge, she leaves her wallet in her coat and walks away. She also leaves her computer camera aimed at her coat. Sure enough, someone is seen stealing from Nowak’s wallet. We don’t see her face, only her dress. But it’s the dress being worn by Kuhn. Confronted by the school authorities, Kuhn denies being a thief, even though it is obvious she is. Despite her continued protestations, she is removed from her job.
The matter is complicated by the fact that Kuhn’s son, Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch), is Nowak’s star pupil. Under pressure, Oskar organizes a defense of his mother and an attack against Nowak. She is accused of violating the rules by setting up a video in the teachers’ lounge, and even her Polish origin leads some parents to oppose her. Eventually, it becomes clear that Oskar knows his mother is guilty, but he also knows that she stole to help him, not to waste the money.
Directed by Ilker Çatak, The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer) is a fine film, but it is also the least deserving of the 2024 International nominees.