Maria Speth’s documentary “Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse”, more entertaining than many feature films, celebrates the school as a cultural space.
The cinema and school have something in common: You cannot replace both with online activities. It was not without irony that Maria Speth’s documentary “Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse” was only able to experience its Berlinale premiere last February on the Internet – analogous to “homeschooling”, this unfortunate side effect of the pandemic.
The long-term study from a sixth comprehensive school class in Stadtallendorf, Hesse, was a highlight of the festival, the “Golden Bear of Hearts”, one could say in a flowery way. But unlike in school, critics have no stylistic notes to fear.
The “big jury award” was more than deserved. It was not until the open-air performances that were made up in the summer that the heart-warming plea for education, cohesion and equal opportunities was able to bring tears to the eyes of the large cinema audience. Class teacher Bachmann, the aging rock fan with a woolly hat and AC / DC sweater, has a screen presence that is difficult to achieve in a feature film. In Hollywood, maybe Tom Hanks would play him.
Reality in feature film quality?
In the world of great feature films, school films are in a genre of their own. Anyone who advocates strict documentary ethics could reproach “Mr. Bachmann and his class” for the proximity to the often very powerful impact of these films. When you see the teacher with his guitar in the classroom, you automatically think of Richard Linklater’s comedy “School of Rock” with Jack Black or even of the anarcho classic “Rock’n’Roll High School.” Filmmaker found a feature film quality in reality that was easy to capture and produce a similar effect?
It is more likely to be the other way around: All really good school films, from Jean Vigo’s “Behagen insufficient” to Truffaut’s “pocket money” to outstanding teenage films such as “The Breakfast Club”, have a social message. It is always about integration, support, overcoming class barriers and the right to self-development. And those, in turn, are classic topics of documentary film. Speth’s film is not about the sentimental glorification of the youthful “Feuerzangenbowle”.
Despite the three hours and 37 minutes that her film is now long, she probably still has a lot of scenes left that would warm our hearts. Because, like so much in this film, they remind us of what we owe to such passionate teachers who playfully infected us with culture for life.
Many people read the only books of their lives in school and will never pick up a musical instrument or a paint box again afterwards. It is hard to imagine that after Corona you will catch up on what Mr. Bachmann can do best: music lessons as integrative jamming, individual tutoring for foreign-language children, motivation and empathy.
As a documentary film, Speth’s work develops an intensity comparable to that of a large feature film, which is further increased by the long running time. The feeling of a precious familiarity arises, as if these children had personally invited us to participate in their lives. This may also affect questions of documentary ethics. Is it even legitimate to siphon off so much intimacy from children? How will you later look back on this document of your perhaps not always brilliant academic performance? But here, too, one could argue: When minors act in feature films, completely different problems arise, after all, one touches the border with child labor.
In this film, all children become unmistakable protagonists, the wide-screen camera from Reinhold Vorneider gives them wide, discreet leeway, nobody seems to feel pressured by the recording situation. And sound engineer Oliver Göbel would like to ask personally how one can record such a good sound in real situations.
The educational message of all good school films, the plea for equal opportunities, was never kept in this society. In fact, we are moving further and further away from the socio-political ideals of the 1970s when the slogan of a “culture for all” also had an impact on educational policy.
A film about a class of children, the majority of whom have a migration background, also raises the question of why in many schools the ethnic origin determines the division of the classes. It is a great gain that racism is finally being talked about in Germany, but no herb seems to have grown against classicism. Promoting the less educated is an elementary task of any school policy, but teachers like Mr. Bachmann are unsung heroes. Just like the students during this difficult time. A small cinematic monument comes in handy here, and one that’s so entertaining too.
Mr. Bachmann and his class. Documentary. D 2021. Director: Maria Speth. 217 min.