Seven years after “Mrs. Müller has to go,” Sönke Wortmann is drawn to his, which is also performed like a chamber play INCLUDED COMPANY to a school again. Another argument breaks out… We’ll reveal how much we like it this time in our review.
OT: Locked-in Society (DE 2022)
Friday afternoon at a technically backward, municipal high school: the popular sports teacher Peter Mertens (Florian David Fitz), the beastly and extremely conservative Heidi Lohmann (Anke Engelke), the senior teacher Klaus Engelhardt (Justus von Dohnányi), the diplomacy-striving Holger Arndt (Thomas Loibl ), the bizarre chemistry teacher Bernd Vogel (Torben Kessler) and the over-motivated trainee teacher Sara Schuster (Nilam Farooq) still have work to do in the teachers’ room. Then the annoyed father Manfred Prohaska (Thorsten Merten) bursts in and waves a pistol around. His son Fabian would only need a single point to be admitted to the Abitur – and this point should now be discussed. No matter who, no matter how…
Sönke Wortmann’s filmography is quite varied. Nevertheless, it can be said that the director was obsessed with a certain type of film in 2015. We’re talking about controversial films with a chamber play character. In other words, films that (largely) take place in one location and in which the characters engage in heated debates. It began with the play adaptation “Frau Müller muss weg!”, set at a primary school, in which a group of parents argue about an unloved teacher. Since then, there have been “The First Name” (another adaptation of a play), about a dispute between friends about naming, history and linguistic culture, and theoretically its sequel “The Last Name”. The film has been shot for a long time, but the distributor Constantin Film has postponed it to October 2022 after several planned release dates that have already passed. This gives Wortmann the opportunity to overtake himself. Because the director, who also delivered a film in 2019 with “Contra” (the remake of a French success), which is not a chamber play but is at least about the culture of discussion, has once again made a school-based chamber drama. In contrast to “Frau Müller muss weg”, “Included Society” is based on a radio play, once again revolves around parental concerns about grades, and largely takes place in a high school teachers’ room.
The two teachers Peter Mertens (Florian David Fitz) and Bernd Vogel (Torben Kessler) are overwhelmed by the situation.
Similar to how in “Mrs. Müller Must Go” the eponymous teacher only plays a supporting role while the nagging parents are the focus, in “Included Society” the angry father is primarily the driving force behind the plot. Thorsten Merten is at least a successful driving force as the pistol-waving, angry father, but also visibly struggling with his conscience: Merten has visible joy when, as Manfred, he makes it clear that he not only wants to blackmail a point, but also the duplicitous teaching staff of high school would like to force people to learn about themselves. And yet he looks so overwhelmed and tired that the armed hostage-taker doesn’t simply turn into an angry citizen. In doing so, Wortmann leaves some potential for conflict and the option for satirical bite on the sidelines, as he pushes the aspect of deluded, angry helicopter parents to the sidelines, but at the same time it grounds the film – at least as far as “father threatens teachers with a gun” is grounded and make it more credible. The focus here is not on flaws and annoyances in grading in general, but on the educational system in United Kingdom, which needs improvement, and double-moral teachers who, as seasoned adults full of mistakes, believe that their students should be perfect.
“Thorsten Merten is at least a successful driving force as the pistol-waving, angry father who is also visibly struggling with his conscience: Merten has visible joy when, as Manfred, he makes it clear that he doesn’t just want to blackmail a point, but also the duplicitous one “I want to force high school teaching staff to learn about themselves.”
Topics such as the digitalization of teaching, which is progressing at a snail’s pace, or the reason why “It has always been like this!” The rejected rescheduling of the start of lessons to times that promise more receptive school classes from a chronobiological perspective are primarily addressed in the form of sideshows in the teachers’ verbal war. The idealistic trainee teacher argues against a wall with her pronunciation for a modernized school, while the old ladies and gentlemen in the staff room prefer to take swipes at inclusive language. Or in gossiping about high school girls with short skirts who allow the funny, young sports teacher and recreational DJ to attack them…
The film takes place exclusively in the teachers’ room at a school.
When the characters talk each other into a rage, the cast ensures entertainment with their good timing – regardless of whether an unpopular teacher goes against his true beliefs on principle just to get one over on a more popular colleague, the bickerers descend to the level of schoolyard bullies or Engelke, Dohnányi and Kessler become caricatures of immortal teacher archetypes with a subtle wink. Farooq and Fitz, meanwhile, embody the types that many students like to hang on to (sometimes figuratively, sometimes… not), and not only provide a snappy rapport with and against each other, but also cope very well with the task It is clear that their roles change from sympathy to antipathy and back several times. As clever as it can be in the shining moments, when the unpleasant truths about the angry father’s hostages gradually come to light, Wortmann’s production repeatedly struggles with doing justice to their weight. Serious realizations are staged in the same way and influence the tone in which the characters continue their argument, just as much as more trivial revelations.
“When the characters talk each other into a rage, the cast provides entertainment with their good timing – regardless of whether an unpopular teacher goes against his true beliefs on principle just to get one over on a more popular colleague, the bickerers descend to the level of schoolyard bullies or Engelke, Dohnányi and Kessler become caricatures of immortal teacher archetypes with a subtle wink.”
As a result, not only is the tinder of accusations and confessions lost – the heated debates in the staff room occasionally become monotonous due to this constant tension (or depending on your perspective: constant, relative relaxation), even with a running time of only 101 minutes including the end credits. Meanwhile, sketchy, pointed insights into how an incompetent police force investigates the hostage situation provide variety.
Conclusion: Although it lacks bite, a well-rehearsed cast in this controversial film about school problems and the big problem of school ensures a lot of smiles, some hearty laughs and a solid dose of “It’s funny because it’s annoying” murmurs.
“Included Society” can be seen in USA cinemas from April 14, 2022.