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The Crack Magazine

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Film of the Month: Mr Bachmann and his Class

Director: Maria Speth

This intimate and quietly inspiring documentary, which profiles a German schoolteacher working in the provincial industrial town Stadtallendorf, is hearteningly redolent of the 2008 French tribute to teaching ‘The Class’ in its warts and all celebration of school life and its utopian possibilities. At sixty-four, teacher Herr Bachmann is approaching retirement, although his age is belied by his rock dude appearance which includes a permanently attached woolly hat, hoodie and selection of band t-shirts (including an AC/DC one), like a real-life, capable and less opportunistic version of Dewey in ‘School of Rock’. His class comprises of nine to twelve-year-olds, most of them recent immigrants for whom German is a second language. Yet, despite their differing language abilities, they are taught together. Bachmann’s unorthodox teaching style is established from the outset when he tells them a story about a guitar that emerges as a parable relevant to the pupils’ lives. Over a lengthy three-and-a-half hour running time, thanks to the teacher’s disarming curiosity in his pupils as individuals, and the attentive camerawork, we gradually learn his charges’ weaknesses and strengths. Like ‘The Class’ this is an unblinking and clearheaded look at the challenges and rewards of multiculturalism: Bachmann’s reaction to one student’s homophobic remarks is not to call them out but to talk them through it calmly and quietly. Perhaps the rebellious past he occasionally alludes to, is the reason why the pupils identify with Bachmann so strongly. In the film’s most charming moment, he hauls out his guitar during an open day and cajoles one of his students into singing a Bulgarian folk song to her non-German speaking dad. The final shot is as melancholy as it is uplifting.

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm

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