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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Our society has often been called "death-denying," one in which grief
is suppressed and the inevitability of death ignored. Author John
Fowles said, "Death's rather like a certain kind of lecturer. You don't
really hear what is being said until you're in the first row." The
children at a primary school in Montreal are definitely in the first
row in Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar, the story of a sixth grade
class in Canada attempting to deal with the emotional trauma resulting
from the sudden and shocking loss of their teacher.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 2012 Oscars, Monsieur Lazhar is an adaptation of Évelyne de la Chenelière's stage play, and is produced by Luc Déry and Kim McCraw, the same team that gave us the Oscar-nominated Incendies. According to the jury at the Toronto Film Festival, it is "a film that explores loss, exile, and the truths we tell our children."
Opening in a schoolyard in the middle of a snowy winter, Grade 6 pupils, Simon (Émilien Néron), and his friend, Alice (Sophie Nélisse), have run off to deliver milk cartons only to discover their teacher Martine Lachance has committed suicide, a discovery that leaves both children with profound emotional scars that will take a long time to heal. Because Simon had been a problem for his teacher, he blames himself for her death and takes out his guilt feelings by being overly aggressive towards other children. Unfortunately, the school can only think in terms of "professional" counseling, and a psychologist is hired to assist the distressed pupils, but she is ineffective in reaching them.
The classroom is redecorated and painted, yet the students are not moved to another room and the unseen presence of Martine looms large. Exhausted by the ordeal, the school principal, Madame Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx), out of desperation, hires Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian refugee without papers or references, believing his story that he is a landed immigrant and has taught school for nineteen years, though in fact he has been the manager of a restaurant. Though getting off to a shaky start in class, dictating Balzac to the bewildered children, Bachir soon begins to handle the children's emotions with greater awareness and sensitivity.
Operating under the severe restrictions of today's over-protective culture, he is prohibited from hugging a crying child or even touching them for that matter, a prohibition that often works to the detriment of the child as well as to what the school is trying to accomplish. Though Bachir actually had not told the truth about his teaching qualifications in order to get the job, his ability to relate to the student's trauma because of his own experience allows him to overcome his lack of training and meet the students on an equal playing field. Winner of the award for Best Canadian feature film at the Toronto Film Festival, Monsieur Lazhar is a low-key, low-budget, and often humorous film that observes rather than preaches, and, though the script offers many opportunities, avoids clichés and cloying sentimentality.
Marked by outstanding performances by Fellag, Proulx, and especially the children who are natural and unaffected, the characters are allowed to explore their own feelings without contrivance or manipulation. When the emotional moments come, they are all the more powerful because they arise naturally and not out of pre-designed plot points designed to provoke tears. Though we might wish for an ending akin to Mr. Holland's Opus, the honesty of the film precludes it. While children's hurt in this kind of situation may never be completely forgotten, with compassion, they may be able to develop a new awareness of the preciousness of life and the beauty of giving and receiving love. Monsieur Lazhar has pointed the way.
Monsieur Lazhar is based on a play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere and it is a Canadian film in French with English subtitles. The film is about an immigrant from Algeria named Bachir Lazhar, who applies for a job at the local elementary school when there is a position open. In desperate need of a new teacher, the school hires him and Bachir starts shortly after. He is teaching a grade six class and what he was not prepared for is that several of the students are still in a state of grief because the previous teacher died and they were all quite attached to her and that is why the position was open and how he got the job. Bachir has a different teaching method than the class's previous teacher and a lot of what he says and does seems different to the students and a lot of what the curriculum and how the students behave and just life in Canada in general is somewhat strange to Bachir, having lived most of his life in Algeria. Putting those differences beside, Bachir tries to move on and be the best teacher that he can and soon he starts to warm up to the children in his class and he seems to get through to several of them as well and they start to really like him. However both at school in his classroom and even in his personal life, Bachir will have to deal with memories from the past, both of his own and his students and teach them how to grieve and deal with death as he has to face some of his own demons and personal problems as well. Over the years there have been many films made about inspirational teachers who win over classrooms of at once reluctant, or delinquent students only to have a big happy ending at the end. Some of those type of films have worked in the past and some have not. However, I find that it is a premise and plot device that has been used perhaps too often in films and is starting to get predictable and clichéd. I am very happy to say that Monsieur Lazhar avoided all that and went through a different formula with it's storytelling. Yes, it is about a teacher who has to win over his students, but there is so much more to the story as well. For one thing everything in this Montreal town in Quebec, is very foreign to Bachir, but he has a lot of self esteem and determination to set out and do his best for not only himself, but his students as well. He wants to leave behind his troubled past and start something new, which is hard at first, but he is giving his best effort to make it work. In dealing with the children he has a calm and very likable quality to him when he is teaching them. He generally also wants what is best for his students and for them to succeed not only in his class, but further along in life as well. What prevents this from coming together is the painful memories of the student's beloved first teacher who died just before Bachir, took the job. The school has counselors come in and the parents all try to do their best with the children and help them with the grief, guilt, sadness and other emotions that they are feeling, but unbeknownst to all of them, that the one who can truly relate to this incident and be the most help to the children at this time is Bachir, who is just getting to know the children and has never met the previous teacher, or really know anything about her. Putting the cultural and personal differences beside, he can reach these children in surprising and uplifting ways. This is a film just as much about death and how it not only affects children, but everyone else as well. How the film shows the different individuals trying to cope with it and how it doesn't always work, or perhaps takes more time for some than others, is an accurate picture and more lifelike and precise which I also appreciated about the film. The film plays everything quite quiet and low key, but the emotion we get out of the actors, and from the great script and direction is priceless. I felt extremely moved by the end of this film and felt that I got to know these characters and share their grief, heartaches and also loves and happiness. Bachir, himself is also a very interesting character with kind eyes and a warm smile and I really got to like him and his character throughout the movie. He is brilliantly played by Mohamed Fellag, who does a quiet and low key character, but with a lot of depth and feeling. It's a great performance. The performances from all the children are great in here as well. I liked this film because I think so many people will be able to relate and connect to it on several different levels, but we are also given a tremendous piece of entertainment to go along with it. I liked that this film took chances with what it talked about and showed us and ends up turning out to be quite relevant and relatable. The film will probably please most adult viewers and older teens may get a lot out of it as well. Even a day after seeing this film I still thought about it quite a lot and about the hold and power it held over me. At times happy, sad and overall an experience that I would certainly recommend. One of 2011's best films.
This film won Canada's Genie for best film and deserved it. The story
is simple and profound, contemporary and timeless at the same time.
After the suicide of a grade school class teacher, a new teacher
appears ready to take over the class. An Algerian immigrant, Monsieur
Lazhar brings such a deep humanity to his job, that the traumatized
kids are able to come to terms in some ways with what has happened.
What they don't realize is how much their new teacher knows of their
pain first hand.
Fellag's performance as the title character is note perfect and gigantic. The children are astonishing and the final scene, the final moment will crush even the most stoic viewer's resolve not to weep.
What happens when a class of 6th graders loses their beloved teacher to
suicide? What happens when an Algerian immigrant applies to be their
new teacher in a culture he is just beginning to understand? What is
behind the teacher's stillness, his smile and his sad eyes? This film
is a beautiful rendering of a stage play about love and loss, but also
about hope. In this wonderfully-told story, the hope isn't trite,
contrived or artificial. It's something you almost have to feel. It
comes from the growing relationship between this strange teacher in a
strange land, and his student children, so in need of his help.
The movie's cast is rich with great acting, by the kids of course, but here, if anything, they're outshone by Algerian actor Mohamed Fellag, whose face tells 1000 stories about where he has been and, perhaps, where he hopes to go.
The only things not perfect are the characters, for this writer and director have been too careful to give them - even the "best" of the children - no flaws. They are all more good than bad, but also complex in their own way, suffering the loss of one teacher and the growing pains of learning to learn from another.
This film gets my vote for Best Foreign Language Film, even over the excellent A Separation. Don't miss it!
Monsieur Lazhar is another in a long line of inspirational teacher
films set to show viewers that teachers are an unending source of
inspiration and worldly advice. I have grown tired of this plot line
and subsequent variations, but Monsieur Lazhar is a shining example of
the inspirational teacher film and the poignancy of said films if
executed correctly, with honesty and maturity.
Philippe Falardeau's (It's Not Me, I Swear and Congorama) film adaption of Evelyne de la Chenelière's play (she also plays Alice's mother), Monsieur Lazhar was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category as the official Canadian submission. The film tells the story of Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian immigrant hired at Montreal public grade school after the original teacher was found hanging from the ceiling of her classroom. The teacher, Martine Lachance, was found by one of her students, Simon (Émilien Néron) while he was delivering milk to the classroom as he always does every Thursday. The film continues to show the effects of death and the ways that the children try to deal with the loss, but also their grief, which at times seem to be stifled by the school.
Monsieur Lazhar, at the same time, is dealing with a loss of his own; having come to Canada seeking asylum and waiting for his wife and children to join him, only to have his family killed the night before they were supposed to leave Algeria. The film cuts between Bachir in the classroom (having the children do a dictation of Balzac, rearranging their desks, etc.) and Bachir outside of the classroom (picking up his wife's belongings, preparing for a hearing, etc.). No one knows of his painful past, nor of his refugee status; the school is under the impression that he is a permanent resident of Canada.
Bachir notices, because of his current dealing with grief, that the children are trying to communicate or express their feelings about the death of their teacher. The school has brought on a psychologist to help the children come to grips with their loss. Bachir realizes that it is merely a stop-gap, but is told "not to make waves". He continues to witness things that lead him to believe that the children want to talk about their teacher, Martine and also of the trouble they are having trying to understand something that may well be beyond their comprehension.
Monsieur Lazhar is a heart-warming, but at the same time, heart-wrenching story of how people (whether it be children or adults) trying to come to terms with the loss of a family member (albeit for the children it was a teacher, but school, at that young age, can be something like a second home). Bachir, himself, uses a very personal and poignant short story, that he wrote himself and reads to his class, in an effort to say goodbye - something that Martine Lachance never did. The film features some great performances from Mohamed Fellag as Monsieur Lazhar, Émilien Néron as Simon - a guilt-ridden child that feels responsible for his teacher's suicide - and Sophie Nélisse as Alice, the surprisingly mature young girl that has the courage to speak about the effects of Martine's decisions.
Here again is an amazing French language film about children....This film brings up so many issues about the state of education in our modern society... the role of the teacher, the administrators, the parents, in the development of our kids... and our society. And the children in this film are all wonderful... smart, caring, funny, and mischievous. I wonder, hypothetically, what children become without someone like MONSIEUR LAZHAR in their lives. I think more and more children have fewer adult role models to look up to. Everyone is so busy, cornered in their own boxes, afraid to step out of bounds, with no time to give...It makes for a secluded...secular world...
Canada's entry for 2012's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, "Monsieur
Lazhar" is a quiet, sweet and deceptively simple film that tells the
story of Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian refugee who offers his services as
a substitute teacher for an elementary school class that has lost its
teacher. The circumstances of the teacher's death, the students' and
staff's reaction to it, and Lazhar's own back-story combine to create a
compelling film that has a lot to say about the barriers we place
between ourselves and our children today.
Mohammd Fellag, an Algerian comedian, writer and humorist, portrays Monsieur Lazhar, and is surrounded by an exceptional cast of juvenile actors, led by Sophie Nelisse and Emilien Neron. The performances in this film are uniformly superb which, given the subject matter, is quite an accomplishment (particularly for the young actors portraying the classmates.)
Lazhar's attempts to deal with his students' grief, their cultural and educational differences, the rigid requirements of an educational system, and his own difficulties and loss all culminate in a final scene of incredible power and emotion - the power of one person to connect with another, the power of one act to convey incredible meaning.
"Monsieur Lazhar" is worthy of the honors it has received and worth a trip to the theatre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A story about grief beautifully shot in cloudy soft tones with a wide
sense of light and space, almost heavenly, the Quebecois film "Monsieur
Lazhar" manages deep mourning and acceptance, somehow hopeful in its
expression of the quiet reality of what is, despite how much we wish it
were otherwise. A shell-shocked Quebec elementary school class
suffering the wake of their teacher's abrupt suicide is treated to the
foreign (Algerian) auspices of Monsieur Bachir Lazhar, revealed to the
audience but not the other characters to be a political refugee dealing
with a devastating loss of his own. His name means "Lucky" and "Tell
the good news," which his plays off to his class as a simple greeting,
but the good news of Bashir's presence in the classroom has much more
to offer than just luck.
Lazhar's personal acquaintance with grief is a sort of gospel that allows him a much-needed perspective towards the care of his students, one of whom, Simon, blames himself for the suicide and another, Alice, who seems intractably aware of the finality of death and the permanence of its impact. Heart-wrenchingly convincing performances by Emilien Neron and Sophie Nelisse, respectively, capture the incredibly perceptive incredulity that accompanies childhood trauma. That still- reeling sense of grief is equally apparent in Mohamed Fellag's performance as Lazhar; the emotion of those big round eyes and recently- crumpled shoulders speaks volumes about the import of suffering, shadowed even in bright winter light.
"Monsieur Lazhar" deals with questions of justice and purpose in suffering, concluding in the untempered voices of the children that in some loss there is neither purpose nor justice, but the residue of the experience lingers in bittersweetness that might be named "hope." Ultimately Lazhar makes it okay that some things end before their time, expressing in a classroom fable both his goodbye to the children and his commission for their futuresone of hope and acceptance, which is grace from the inevitable pain of life as human.
Saw this last night as part of a Canadian Film Festival. It's a real gem that negotiates it's way around trauma and intimacy with tact while never preaching. It's a true humanist film in that it attempts to deal with the real issues of being a human being in a realistic and sympathetic way. I'm a fan of Ken Loach, but at times he can make his films too didactic. This movie never does that. The performances are universally excellent and it's open ended structure allows you to go away with multiple endings to think through. I wanted to know so much more about Mr Lazhar after the story ends. Similar to A Separation in many ways and also its equal.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Monsieur Lazhar Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau (2011) 94
minutes Canada's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film
category of the 84th Academy Awards 2012. French with English
This paradoxical film is beautifully acted and directed. The script by Philippe Falardeau is riveting, precise and natural. It portrays the reactions of the children to the suicide of a favorite teacher and slowly uncovers the concealed past of other figures. Monsieur Bachir Lazhar, an immigrant from Algeria, played by Mohamed Fellaq, having read of the suicide in the papers, applies for the newly vacant teaching position with an air of desperation and an exaggerated resume. Set in a public elementary school in Montreal, the students are from diverse backgrounds. An educated man, Lazhar shows he has no idea how to teach young children when he begins by reading Balzac and asking the children to write out dictation. He enforces discipline in the classeven slapping a childand re-arranges the desks in straight lines. Quickly he is told his expectations are too high, but it all signals change to the students who sense his good will and welcome the new beginning.
The children are wonderful. Simon, the boy who found the teacher, played by Emilien Neron, conveys his trauma almost without words. You could drown in the eyes of Alice, Simon's schoolmate, played by Sophie Nelisse. Falardeau's direction makes it difficult to remember this is a film, not a real group of children in a real school. I was reminded of the children in two French films: Francois Trauffaut's 400 Blows and Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants.
It quickly becomes clear that there is a clash between the teacher and the school principal. Lazhar and the principal, Mme. Vaillancourt, played by Danielle Prouix, are simultaneously co-conspirators and antagonists. She feels some of the same conflicts but also expresses sad weariness. She shrugs when he asks if the class could be moved to another room and she responds by saying "That is why they put on fresh paint." The school prefers shielding the children from talking about the suicide and leaving the distress of the children to be addressed by the experts. Lazhar can barely keep himself from responding to the inevitable questions of the students and from trying to comfort them. Both his slap and his pats on the backs of students violate another rule: zero touching of a student by a teacher. A father implores Lazhar "not to raise his child, but to teach her." The reasons for the teacher's immigration and the vulnerability of his entry into Canadian life become clear as the film progresses. There are glimpses of the particular loneliness and fragility of an immigrant such as a meticulous daily routine. We see his simple apartment; his awkward social life; and we watch unnoticed as he dances to the music of his past.
Clearly, Falardeau is exceptionally talented and has the ability to raise social issues through a riveting story. I intend to find his earlier films and look forward to seeing his future work.
Please visit my page at WASHINGTON FILM INSTITUTE > http://dcfilminstitute.org/film-review-Monsieur Lazhar/ and leave any comments > you have about this or any review.
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