Monsieur Lazhar

This unassuming piece of work by director Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie, 2014) is one of those that just pulls you in as you watch it. Set in a Montréal high-school coming to terms with the suicide of a popular teacher. There is a sense of intimacy to this work that allows the watcher to get involved in the emotion of the movie. The film is adapted from the play by Évelyne de la Chenelière with what seem like only minor changes to the plot. The film opens with a pupil, Simon (Émilien Néron) discovering one of his teacher’s having hung herself in the classroom as he delivers the day’s milk, the mundaneness of his act clashing with the horror of what he witnesses. The school quickly responds with all of the correct moves, shepherding the children elsewhere; all but one of the students manage to escape the scene, only Simon’s friend Alice (Sophie Nélisse) also witnessing the scene.

Working by the book the school quickly begins to manage the grief and shock of all involved. All evidence of the terrible event is stripped away with a grief counselor being brought in and the classroom repainted. In the middle of all of this is the head teacher (Danielle Proulx), herself under pressure who is suddenly presented with an option which might help things. A man comes to her looking for a job as a teacher, he just turns up with his CV. The man is an Algerian immigrant who finds himself in Montréal after fleeing very real personal tragedy and suffering. His name is Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, What the Day owes the Night, 2012) Falardeau tells us this man’s story through moments of reflection and memory as well as how his past is influencing the present and the children around him.

Against this background of chaos and disorder, the head teacher hires this stranger. As he starts we see that Bachir is certainly a contrast to the events around him. Bachir is literally what might be described as “old school” these days. His style far more conservative and traditional that what the pupils had been used to. This period of unease and adjustment could have been the film in and ofg itself, but the subject matter needed to be explored further, One of the challenges facing him is overcoming the grief of the pupils, or at least their overcoming of the grief. Bachir has been instructed not to interfere with the grieving and healing process, despite how he sees it not working as effectively as it should. What we see is a man who cares about those around him, adults and children; a man who despite his own loss and suffering can still recognise the value and worth in everybody.

The film is also full of detail. The story is told not so much through narrative but through the detail of the picture the trinkets from home, his food and so on. The fact that he may not be fully qualified to teach also adds a dimension to the piece. This movie is not about answering some of life’s big questions, rather it seems to be more about how we deal with those questions; how do we deal with loss, with trauma, with pressure, and not just how do we deal with such things but how also do we deal with the effects of them on us and others.

I recommend this production as one which will stay with you for a long time after you have seen it.

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