Maria Speth, in her remarkably expansive, quietly radical and deeply intimate 3 ½ hour documentary Mr. Bachmann and His Class, covered serious and urgent topics that’ve become enormously relevant today in a world fraught with right-wing populism, nationalism, majoritarianism, parochialism and religious prejudices – viz. embracing of pluralism and multiculturalism through acceptance and assimilation of immigrants from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, along with transparent discourses on discomfiting historical memories. But – and such is the quiet beauty and warmth of this big-hearted work – these complex political themes were never at odds with its profoundly personal and enchantingly unassuming nature. This foregrounding of everyday stories – organically enmeshed with the above themes through an unhurried, observational form – reminded me of Wiseman’s magnificent In Jackson Heights (and City Hall too), even if the scope was significantly more compact vis-à-vis the latter films. The setting here is a public school in the town of Stadtallendorf – where Nazis used slave labour for their war industry, and thereafter West Germany brought in “guest workers”, a euphemism for low-wage labourers who can be easily exploited by the capitalist market – where the students belong to blue-collar immigrant families from different countries and are struggling to get integrated because of social, cultural and linguistic barriers. Dieter Banchmann – an extraordinary, bohemian and rockstar teacher approaching retirement – imparts a progressive form of pedagogy where inclusiveness of diverse cultural backgrounds and socio-economic hurdles through music, transparent conversations, empathy and humour are as important as math and language skills. Speth, who’s known Bachmann since many years, followed him and his students – each of whom we get to know closely – for around 2 years for this immersive work with an underlying streak of resistance.
Director: Maria Speth