Monsieur Lazhar will move many, with its tender screenplay and charming performances telling a heartfelt story about grief and the unexpected life lessons that come from it.
The Canadian film industry is in the midst of a successful period, with a new wave of filmmaking talent providing great movies such as the 2010 hit Incendies and this year’s masterful Café de Flore. The Canucks just keeps on giving with Monsieur Lazhar, an emotionally rich and character driven film that was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, and with good reason.
Based on a one man play that has been remarkably adapted by writer/director Phillipe Falardeau, the film looks at how the suicide of a popular year 6 teacher affects her students and fellow faculty. Arriving amongst of this is the arrival of Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazher (Mohamed Fellag), a substitute teacher who is dealing with loss of his own.
Suicide and immigration are topical subjects that can make for heavy viewing on their own let alone together, yet Falardeau refuses to let his film be bogged down by the weight of its themes. He has instead created a film that finds joy amongst the sadness and closure to a tragic circumstance, without venturing into icky sentimental terrain.
With the majority of the film set within the walls of a school, Falardeau successfully creates beautifully written interactions between teacher and students, filled with drama, laughter, and a good dose of tears.
As Bashir, Fellag espouses an easy charm and inherent goodness that makes him a character worthy of our trust and sympathies. Even more impressive are the child actors, especially Sophie Nelisse and Emilien Neron who portray characters that mourn their teacher’s suicide with a maturity that does not feel forced. They are very much children genuinely dealing with a difficult circumstance, not young Dakota Fanning’s acting beyond their age bracket.
The idea of mourning held within a classroom is interesting, since the environment itself plays a stifling, foreboding character where a teacher cannot embrace a crying child without suspicions falling upon him/her.
But just like its themes of suicide and immigration, Falardeu is not interested in having his film wave the flag for the plight of teachers or any other social/political cause. Monsieur Lazhar is a film that focuses on humanity when at its most vulnerable, with the film itself a warm embrace that will evoke tears of joy.