Mr Bachmann and His Class (2021)

December 7th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Maria Speth | Doc, Germany 217′

A weighty documentary Fred Wiseman would be proud of takes an in-depth look at the life of dedicated German teacher, Dieter Bachmann, and his teenage class in Stadtallendorf near Marburg.

Germany has learnt a long lesson in the aftermath to the Second World War, and the atrocities of Nazism are still drilled into  pupils, particularly here in a city infamous for its history as a munitions centre that made use of forced labour in the local factory, now buried by its roof covering of trees.

Of course nowadays the class is also made up of immigrant communities from Turkey, Bulgaria and Russia who see the world from a different perspective: ‘the war’ has another meaning for them, but they have all suffered crisis back home and find themselves adjusting to another country, and a diverse set of rules.

Laid-back and placid, Bachmann strikes a jovial figure in his youthful garb of jeans and tee-shirt, despite nearing retirement. His speciality is music and art, along with the classic curriculum of German and Maths, and his comforting phrase “Wir schaffen das” (“We’ll handle it”) makes him a popular teacher and mentor all round. The length of the film allows us to get to know the man himself and appreciate his methods and the enormity and subtlety of the task at hand – not only instructing the next generation, but making them into culturally sensitive, compassionate individuals.

Away from the didactic sounding title, the film unfolds as an enlightening and immersive study of classroom multiculturalism along the lines of Laurent Cantet’s 2008 docudrama Entre les Murs (The Class) and Nicolas Philibert’s classic Etre et Avoir (2002) with Bachmann being the German equivalent of the film’s Georges Lopez. A Hollywood equivalent Dangerous Minds, where Michelle Pfeiffer takes on a monumental task as a retired marine turned teacher in a deprived and racially divided community in California, shows just how challenging teaching can be. MT



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