Despite promising, tense beginnings, classroom tensions fail to provide much in the way of social or emotional revelation in Good Morning, Mister Grothe. Despite strong lead performances, this story of a teacher and a problem pupil going head to head finally veers uneasily between mundanity and melodrama.
Directed confidently by Lars Kraume - whose feature Keine Lieder Über Liebe played in Panorama in 2005 - the DV-shot feature is for the most part a solid realist exploration of the blackboard jungle.
With inevitable echoes of more mainstream idealistic-teacher dramas such as To Sir, With Love, Dangerous Minds and Bertrand Tavernier's Ça Commence Aujourd'hui, Kraume's film also covers similar ground to another, considerably harder-edged German low-budget drama, Maren Ade's The Forest For The Trees (2003).
Good Morning's gritty but ultimately unexciting approach will make it a limited theatrical sell, and action outside Germany will no doubt be limited to the festival circuit.
Its hero is Michael Grothe (Blomberg), a late-30s divorced German teacher in a Berlin high school. He's tough, idealistic yet pragmatic, and thoroughly
tenacious, even when faced with a class of teenagers who are apathetic at best, downright rebellious at worst.
His problem pupil is Nico (Trepte), a sullen, strutting bully whose main interest is disrupting classes. It comes as no surprise when, after a while, Grothe seems to achieve a kind of breakthrough with Nico, who responds well to Grothe's adoption of him as a case meriting special efforts.
Just as quickly, though, the bond between teacher and pupil turns sour - as does the rest of Grothe's life, including his burgeoning relationship with single colleague Lisa Kranz (Kunzendorf).
The classroom scenes are impeccable, with a strong teenage cast interacting convincingly: beyond the kids' collective apathy and contempt, the young actors effectively sketch out each one's individual personality.
When it comes to the adults, however, Blomberg and Kunzendorf struggle a little to convey much more than the cliche of committed but overstressed teachers failing to reconcile vocation with a personal life.
The narrative is uneven, a promising open sequence - with Nico pursuing a personal grudge against Grothe - never quite followed up in terms of suggestive conflict. The audience breathes a sigh of relief when the potentially cliched rapport between teacher and pupil - based on athletics and a spot of Salinger - is blown off course, but the path that the film eventually takes is unsatisfying, with Blomberg not quite pulling off his portrait of a strong man in collapse.
Fluidly-executed DV photography gives the film a no-nonsense realist ring, but no new ground is broken.
Christof M Kaiser