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Favoriten movie review: Excellent doc observes a primary classroom in Vienna for three years

In Favoriten, director Ruth Beckermann spends three years filming a classroom in Vienna to observe how pupils interact with their teacher.

Favoriten, Ruth Beckermann’s brilliant new documentary, depicts the classroom as a microcosm of the world. It is a room that is always chaotic, but it is also unassumingly alive, and it demands a lot of time and work from the teacher in place. Favoriten, which premiered at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, was filmed over three years, from 2020 to 2023, and follows 25 children and their teacher Ilkay Idiskut inside a classroom at Vienna’s largest primary school. What follows in the next 118 minutes is a humorous, delightful, and completely captivating depiction of the power of guidance and the concept of community. (See also: Sting Like a Bee review: A fascinating film-within-a-film study of Italian adolescence.)

The premise
But the question is whether the mere act of ‘viewing’ without interruption can generate any story at all. The goal here is not to look at the kids through a ‘adult gaze’, and Favoriten achieves that particular focus on the kids by a lower angle, where the kids are treated as equals; where their talks, concerns, and blunders in completing a tenth place sum are just as relevant. Ilkay is always present, sometimes seeking answers and sometimes sitting in the back, allowing opinions to flow.

One of the many reasons Favoriten works so well is because the camera feels inconspicuous in the way these youngsters react, allowing the viewer to unravel the multiple dynamics in play. There is a bashful one who takes a little longer. The class winner who receives all As. The person who constantly asks ‘why’ not because he wants to know, but for other wicked reasons. Each of them is unique and has an own personality.

However, in many instances, the children are given phones to shoot their own films, which chronicle the loving world as viewed through their eyes. Favoriten accentuates the small emotions that these children communicate with one another in such loving detail that by the conclusion, I felt as if I had known them for years.

Favoriten, however, is a film about a variety of topics. It thoughtfully and carefully captures the subtext of understaffed classrooms, namely the challenge of language for non-native speakers. It also mirrors how young minds assimilate new information and learn to question what they see and what they hear. In what may be the film’s most important scene, Ilkay and the children discuss the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Ilkay assigns some of them to explain what they know about the situation thus far. One child asks sharply, “It’s only about Ukraine and Russia.” “What’s happening in Syria?” The consequences are severe.

Beckermann is well aware of the school’s understaffing. Ilkay is the only one who leads the class throughout the day, speaking in a language that not everyone understands because it is not their native tongue. But her consistency is admirable, and the serenity and calmness with which she manages the numerous minor issues in class is apparent. She is a terrific facilitator, and Favoriten emphasizes the significance of her maternal and caring presence among the children.

Final thoughts.
There is one particularly memorable incident in which Ilkay is met with the disturbing news that a new girl has been bullied in class. They are now in fourth grade, and there has been no indication of discomfort in the classroom up until now. The details stun her, and by extension, the spectator, since where did this come from? There are facts that may never be shown to the camera. Ilkay resolves this with such grace and compassion that I was brought to tears. The world is rough and merciless, and who knows what will happen when the lesson ends and these children go out to see what happens outside, yet these small nuances, The memories students create with their wonderful teacher will last a lifetime.

Favoriten is a sensitive and heartbreaking exploration of the present, the concept of community, and childhood. Without a doubt, it is also one of the best films of the year. I could stay another three hours in this classroom and not moan for a single second.

Santanu Das is covering CPH: DOCX for the accredited journalists.



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