“Do you like Italian?”
As part of the In the Closet Series created by New York City native Yahaira Paulino, the short film The Teacher’s Lounge fits perfectly. Developed as a venue for artists to make films that show “people being people […] when no one is watching them,” the concept allows for an infinite number of possibilities along the spectrum of human experience. By being about what we do when we’re alone, however, negative connotations are unavoidable and perhaps desired. I’m sure some filmmakers would love to find a way to showcase mankind’s mundane daily rituals in some entertaining way, but there are many secrets, lies, and deception in our moments of isolation ripe for the picking. Why wouldn’t humanity’s dark side be the natural attraction?
This is where director Marvin Suarez is drawn for The Teacher’s Lounge on an otherwise normal day at school. The music department’s grade deadline has arrived, providing the perfect opportunity for the man in charge (Timothy J. Cox) to find out exactly how effective his educators are. Robert (Sabar Banks) is the consummate professional while Mary (Deja Aramburu) proves to be anything but. Bored and listless, she’s found procrastinating by doodling on the chalkboard rather than just getting out her red pen like Robert most likely already has. Instead she simply opens a magazine and instantly dozes off with only the fear from waking without any time left to finally shake her from the doldrums of ineptitude.
It’s a character study of our self-destructive ways when trapped inside a situation we subconsciously don’t want to be. Either Mary is the worst teacher in the world or she is looking to get fired—there is no other option besides bad screenwriting. While this may still be the case, I get why Suarez and the three actors who also cowrote the film with him would craft such a one-dimensional role at its center. Mary’s little secrets behind closed doors aren’t the dirty laundry they’d ultimately like to reveal. No, that distinction comes in the form of Cox’s choice for a promotion and the ulterior motives coming with it. Rather than be about what occurs when Mary is alone, The Teacher’s Lounge is actually about what her boss does after catching her.
The end result is an amateurish exercise that fulfills the regulations of the system in which it was created. Does this make it a good film? No. The acting is over-the-top from Aramburu’s ambivalence to Banks’ exasperation to Cox’s smarm and the horror-lite score playing beneath every second does nothing to deflect from their inauthenticity. It’s tough to fault the whole too much, though, since as an ‘assignment’ it does succeed. Unfortunately, following guidelines with a clichéd and hurried story of laziness, newfound conscience, sexual harassment, and blackmail doesn’t give a movie the same vote of confidence when viewed outside its original intent. No, here it’s merely a valiant but flawed attempt at drama.
Watch The Teacher’s Lounge for yourself on Vimeo.