At a Montréal public grade school, an Algerian immigrant is hired to replace a popular teacher who committed suicide in her classroom. While helping his students deal with their grief, his own recent loss is revealed.
MONSIEUR LAZHAR begins with the discovery of the suicide of teacher Martine Lachance. This is shown in a subtle yet disturbing way. The setting is a school and the first person that sees Martine is one of her students. The world of this small school has been turned upside down and it will take a great amount of time and effort to set this world right.
This is the core of the story. The director and other teachers who work at the school are absolutely well intentioned and care about the children, but they have no clear idea of how to handle the aftermath of the event. Martine was one of them, but they are baffled and angered by her actions.
Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar enters this situation. No substitute teacher can be found from the usual sources, so this unusual man steps in to fill the gap. Monsieur Lazhar has a formality about him and an air of detachment. As the days pass it seems that he hasn’t been in Canada long, and isn’t well acquainted with the school curriculum he is expected to teach, nor the ways of the society he has found himself in.
Lazhar is a guarded man, so we are unsure of what his internal struggle is, however he obviously wants to help his students to deal with the loss of Martine. Not all in the school agree with his ideas.
MONSIEUR LAZHAR was nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars. It has garnered a number of foreign and domestic film awards. Director Philippe Falardeau has reshaped a one-man play written by Evelyne de la Cheneliere into a well-crafted feature film. Algerian comedian, actor, writer Mohamed Saïd Fellag plays the title character. Fellag had to leave his country during the civil war of the ‘90s. He now lives in France. He brings a sense of loss to his fish-out-of-water role. The children are also notable. Émilien Néron plays the troubled and aggressive Simon and Sophie Nélisse plays Alice who is badly affected by the death of Martine.
We hope that childhood will be a time when kids can be protected from harmful influences and we expect teachers to maintain a duty of care regarding their students. This movie explores the aftermath when those expectations are struck down.
MONSIEUR LAZHAR is a subtle, beautifully made film with really strong performances. It has a running time of 94 minutes and is currently in limited release in Australia. It is in Canadian French with English subtitles. I rated it a 8/10.