Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Canada).
Watched March 8, 2013.
Although foreign films and subtitles are not my forte, Philippe Falardeau and Canada’s Monsieur Lazhar was refreshing after the last foreign film Bullhead. Despite the fact the this film also deals with some hard life occurrences, it does so in such a polished, well practiced way that it is much easier to appreciate this film.
In the opening scenes, a sixth grade student Simon (Émilien Néron) discovers his teacher who hung herself in their classroom. He goes running for a teacher and the camera stays still on an empty hallway, communicating a stunned silence. What feels almost like minutes later, teachers rush into the hallway to push returning students back out to recess.
The school scrambles. They get a psychologist to talk to the class and their story is publicized all throughout town. This results in Bachir Lazhar (Mohammed Fellag) walking in right off the streets and putting himself up for the open position of teacher.
The class he inherits is, clearly, very emotionally distraught, but Lazhar is prohibited from even mentioning the incident that they are struggling over, to the students or much less the teachers who knew her best. The students give us a glimpse into their own turmoil–Alice (Sophie Nélisse) writes an honest diction discussing how their late teacher’s decision was violent and selfish. He mother is a flight attendant and is never home, so she reaches out to Lazhar for some much needed support.
The film also makes fun of the many laws prohibiting instructors from any sort of physical contact with their students. On the one hand, we hear a sad story of Simon and their late teacher that makes us believe these laws are there for a reason, but with Alice we believe the complete opposite.
The characters and acting were all very well done. While Lazhar struggles to become established in Canada as an Algerian refugee after his wife and children were burned alive back home, he finds a connection with his students and eventually breaks the rules and discusses their teacher with them. Simon finally opens up about his, yes childish, but completely honest and heartbreaking feelings about discovering her body, saying that she knew he would be the one to find her.
Although the story sounds sad, and it certainly has its tear inducing moments, it isn’t quite the heartbreaker that you might think. Lazhar brings a redeeming quality and an interesting way of teaching that makes you want to see how the kids will flourish under his instruction. The relationships, between certainly every character in the film, are all fascinating and worth the almost two hour film.
If you have patience for foreign films and character studies, this is definitely one that I would suggest. It’s a slow pace, but definitely an interesting premise that affects every character down to the core.