Monsieur Lazhar review by Melissa Orcine - Cinema Paradiso
A Quebecois middle school is shocked to its core when one of its beloved teachers is found hanging on a pipe inside a classroom. The suicide is then made more disturbing because two of her students saw the teacher hanged and dead. It’s a quick reality check in the opening scene of Canada’s ‘Monsieur Lazhar’, but death eerily looms in this film from start to finish.
The titular ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ is played by Algerian actor Mohamed Fellag, popularly known by his name Fellag the comic actor in France. Here he takes a dramatic turn and he knows what he’s doing, being the genteel newcomer who applies for the teaching job left by the one who committed suicide. As Lazhar, Fellag manifests a man who is eager to connect with his students but has restraint on opening up since he isn’t exactly what he says he is. Is Lazhar telling the truth about his credentials? Why migrate from to Canada at all? Can he turn these kids around and erase the tragedy from their young minds?
Written and directed by Philippe Falardeu, ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ has joined the ranks of films where teachers inspire their students to be the better versions of themselves and follow their dreams. But the film is much more simplistic than that; it’s about teacher-student relationships and how it impacts both parties’ lives forever. For Lazhar, he wants the students not to obsess over death, while the students want the assurance that everything’s going to be okay – if this won’t come from their own parents, at least from their teacher, someone whom they spend most of their days with, anyway. And yet the drama in ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ is not melodramatic and hysterical. Instead, the drama is in the quiet that Lazhar and his students practice in order to move on, let go, and live. Fellag as Lazhar is perfect while the kids who play his students are nuanced and natural, not annoying actor-types at all.
‘Monsieur Lazhar’ tugs at the heartstrings and for good reason. No wonder it was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2011.