Mr Bachmann and His Class (Herr Bachmann und Seine Klasse)
The prospect of a gentle, three-and-a-half-hour observational documentary focussed on a teacher and his class of young charges could sound vaguely off-putting. It shouldn’t. Although the premise might sound a tad subdued, the time spent with Mr Bachmann is unassumingly absorbing, and the hours fly by in a most agreeable way.
Director Maria Speth’s work allows audiences to observe the final year of elementary school at the Georg Büchner Gesamtschule in the German town of Stadtallendorf, after which Mr Bachmann’s students will go on to an upper or lower high school, depending on their grades. There’s nothing insistent about the film (nor Mr Bachman himself), and there’s a total absence of any narration or talking heads, firmly positioning it in the cinéma vérité camp. Speth doesn’t apply an overt narrative structure, simply capturing events in a chronological fashion.
The result really succeeds on Dieter Bachmann himself, an impeccable educator, all empathy and joviality. His class (who are all around 12 to 14 years old), treat him with deference and affection, which is reciprocated. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about his approach, and it seems as though this man was simply born to teach. His offhand disclosure that he really only got into the profession because it offered a steady wage, and he had a wife and two children to support, doesn’t diminish the commitment he clearly has to his profession.
The students are also an asset. One wonders how long the cameras were rolling before Speth actually got any usable footage, but, aside from a rare furtive glance into the lens, the youngsters fail to acknowledge the presence of a camera crew in their classroom. They’re an ethnically diverse lot, which reflects the cultural makeup of Stadtallendorf, and is certainly indicative of contemporary Germany. Their teacher encourages them to celebrate their differences, cultivating inclusivity without a whiff of virtue signalling. Along with Mr Bachmann’s boundless compassion, his conflict resolution skills transcend any discord his beloved students might experience, and it’s an unexpectedly riveting cinematic experience. If Mr Bachmann is looking for a change of pace, Angela Merkel will be stepping down in 2021…
Mr Bachmann and His Class (Herr Bachmann und Seine Klasse) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.