A three-and-a-half-hour documentary could feel like a school assignment, but director Maria Speth and subject Dieter Bachmann make spending time with one teacher and his diverse class a leisurely joy. Mr Bachmann runs a small school primarily made up of migrant children; his main focus is to improve their German and English skills so that they can move to the advanced secondary school, but his holistic education strategies and human concern for his charges extend beyond societal functionality. His unorthodox methods do not always win him love in his small German community but unfailingly connect with his students, who have not yet learned to dampen their dreams despite the challenges many have faced.

Speth’s camera takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, letting Mr Bachmann’s methodologies unfold without a forced narrative. This unobtrusiveness allows her to catch very personal moments, as the 64-year-old teacher plans for retirement and students come to him with problems beyond the classroom. No crisis of identity or maturity is out of bounds, and Mr Bachmann’s encouragement of empathy in his pupils enforces the idea that a common vulnerability and humanity unite us all, no matter background or native language.

Mr Bachmann is similarly open with his students, and Speth’s camera lingers on their reactions when he uses accidentally vulgar slang and later shares the origin of his family name, chosen when his Polish family were forced to take a German name under Nazi rule. Likewise, while the documentary does not belabour the connection between past and present, it moves between creative storytelling assignments and open, unsheltered conversations about Holocaust atrocities, showing the necessity of honest understanding for a rebuilt, reimagined future.

Mr Bachmann and His Class is extraordinarily life-affirming and has high hopes for a globalised, integrated next generation. The world could take note of one teacher’s work.



CAST: Dieter Bachmann, Aynur Bal, Önder Cavdar

DIRECTOR: Maria Speth

WRITER: Maria Speth

SYNOPSIS: In a small German town, Mr Bachmann teaches mostly migrant children German, English, and life.