- Director: Philippe Falardeau
- Genre: Drama
- Details: France/Canada /94 mins (TBC)
It's going to be compared to Lauren Cantat's 2008 powerful drama The Class - new teacher has a major influence on the lives of his students – but one of this year's nominees for Best Foreign Film Monsieur Lahzar prefers to be quietly touching rather than that rather boisterous and noisy affair.
It's eleven-year-old Simon's (Neron) turn to get the school milk and lay it out on the desks in his class but before he can open the door he sees something inside: hanging from the ceiling pipe is his teacher. Still reeling from the shock, the Montreal school has the titular Monsieur Lahzar (Fellag), who has fled Algeria and is seeking refugee status in Canada, offering his services. Lahzar has one way of doing things, the kids are used to another, but both teach other…
Sorry for the soppy end to the synopsis but swap the suicide for a broken leg on a ski trip and Monsieur Lahzar could be a movie starring Robin Williams; that 'movie' couldn't play out more differently than it does here, though. Phillip Falardeau puts the emphasis on subtlety: no one tackles their grief head-on, which rankles with Lahzar, who wants everyone to be honest about their feelings, but he's also going through the grieving process for reasons this review can't get into for spoiler reasons.
Grief manifests in ways we don’t expect and Falardeau likes to dip a toe into some of them - anger, fear, etc. There are times one wishes the writer-director, who was inspired by reading of an incident reported in a Quebec newspaper, would go the whole hog a use the entire foot. Lahzar has a brief flirtation with colleague Claire (Poupart) and there's dinner in hers and everything but it peters out. In its mission statement to not to push everything hard, which The Class could be accused of, Monsieur Lahzar hovers close to being wishy-washy.
It takes some skill to stop short of that and still offer up the cathartic jollies. When the release eventually comes, the film bubbles into life and is all the more rewarding because Falardeau doesn't resort to histrionics. When that happens Sophie Nellise, who is Lisa Simpson to Fellag's Mr. Bergstrom, and Emilien Neron turn it on and deliver some outstanding scenes that they carry on their small shoulders.
Review by Gavin Burke | 16:44 | Friday 4th May 2012 | Movie Review
Monsieur Lazhar is a low-key but charming Oscar-nominated film from French-speaking Canada. Set in Montreal, it follows the story of Algerian immigrant Lazhar. Having lost his wife and children to conflict in Algeria, he applies for a teaching job at a local school. The school has problems of its own too, as a teacher has just unthinkably committed suicide in a classroom. Can Monsieur Lazhar bond his class and come to some sort of solution for this tragedy? Well-acted by its cast, particularly the children, Philippe Falardeau's film recalls many classroom-based films like Dead Poets Society but has its own distinct voice. There's an emotional depth to it that carries it through to a bittersweet but heartfelt conclusion. Well-worth seeking out.Posted 12:19 | Sat 5th May 2012
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