This is pedagogy as cinema—an unobtrusive and highly-rewarding documentary centering on a veteran teacher and his ethnically-diverse students in a small town in Germany, earning every compelling bit of its nearly four-hour runtime.
Plot: Where does one feel at home? In Stadtallendorf, a German city with a complex history of both excluding and integrating foreigners, genial teacher Dieter Bachmann offers his pupils the key to at least feeling as if they are at home.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Jury Prize & Audience Award (Berlinale)
International Sales: Films Boutique
Subject Matter: Light – Education, Ethnicity, Identity, Youth
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Seeing this film warms my educator’s heart; it also brought me down memory lane to when I was a secondary school student. As long as you have been in a school before, you will find Maria Speth’s new documentary a highly-rewarding experience.
At nearly four hours long, you might ask: is it as boring as it sounds—a teacher and his students in a classroom? Absolutely not.
This is pedagogy as cinema, and it earns every compelling bit of its runtime that like any great course with a fantastic teacher, you don’t want it to end.
Winning the Jury Prize and Audience Choice Award at Berlinale earlier this year, Mr. Bachmann and His Class centres on the veteran teacher who guides his ethnically-diverse students (some come from Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, etc.) to become more confident and learned individuals.
“You’re like the E.T. of teachers.”
His methods, seemingly normal in a German school, are unorthodox from the Singaporean perspective—he engages his students through music-making, art, storytelling, etc., while making sure they learn math and their languages well.
It is refreshing to see what is possible in the classroom. Bachmann’s incredible patience and compassion are what drive Speth’s work, captivating us as we nostalgise our own experiences in the classroom.
As much as it is a documentary about the critical role schools and teachers play in shaping the lives of teenagers in their formative years, Mr. Bachmann is also an honest look at how identity, ethnicity, and even sexuality, feed into the mindsets and attitudes of these youth.
As Bachmann puts it, learning to be true to oneself is much more important than learning about the various prescribed school subjects. It remains to be said how these students would fare five or ten years down the road. But without their teacher’s intervention, they wouldn’t even be on the path to achieving their dreams.