A classroom drama with unexpected charm, quiet dignity and emotional integrity
Inspirational schoolteachers have been a cinematic staple from Goodbye Mr. Chips to Laurent Cantet’s Cannes prize-winner The Class. Monsieur Lazhar successfully avoids treacly sentimental as it charts how a teacher and a group of schoolchildren find common ground in coming to terms with personal tragedies.
Based on a play by Evelyne De La Cheneliere, Monsieur Lazhar is blessed with some very believable child actors and a beguiling central performance from Mohamed Fellag. His good samaritan arrives at a snowy Montreal primary school like a latterday Mary Poppins brimming with enthusiasm and concern. A teacher has committed suicide leaving pupil Simon (Emilien Neron) to find her hanging from the rafters of a classroom. Bachir Lazhar arrives offering his services as a substitute and citing 19 years of experience in his native Algiers. He is a welcome solution to an impossible situation. Kindly and attentive, he provides pupils like Alice (Sophie Nelisse) with a sense of hope as he negotiates the nuances of an over-protective educational system. We also learn that Lazhar is burdened with grief for his wife and a family and is struggling to earn political refugee status.
Monsieur Lazhar addresses complex issues of grief, identity and community in a compact running time. There is a sensitivity in the approach of director Philippe Falardeau that invests the material with quiet dignity and emotional integrity. One of five 2012 Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, it is an unexpected charmer.
General release from Fri 4 May.