Director: Philippe Falardeau.
Cast: Mohammed Fellage, Sophie Nelise, Emilien Nerion
Country of Origin: Canada 2011
Language: French, English and Arabic with English subtitles. 94mins.
Sundance Film Festival Official Selection 2011, Canadian Awards (Genies) 2011, Best Canadian Film Toronto International Film Festival 2011, Audience Award Best Film Sydney International Film Festival 2011, Prix Du Public Award and the Variety Piazza Grande Award Locarno Film Festival 2011, Audience Award Best Film Rotterdam Film Festival 2011, Special Jury Prize Award Namur Film Festival 2011, Art Cinema Award Hamburg Film Festival 2011, People's Choice Award Windsor International Film Festival 2011, Academy Award Nominee Best Foreign Film 2012. Country of Origin: Canada 2011 Genre: Drama. Language: French, English and Arabic with English subtitles. 94mins. Rating *****
"Movies touch our hearts, and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things" - Martin Scorsese
The camera moves slightly and focuses on Martine, a popular Grade 6 teacher hanging from a classroom beam. the teachers hurry the children away but Alice runs back and looks through a crack in the classroom door. No gunshots, no visible savagery, just a solitary suicide. So begins Monsieur Lazhar the 2012 Canadian Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, the story of an Algerian immigrant substitute teacher imparting higher learning and emotional healing to a Montreal middle school class. Be honest, that doesn't sound like a must watch wake-up call. How wrong you can be. Monsieur Lazhar is a gentle, fable-like all embracing critically acclaimed and exquisite film from the Montreal based writer-director Philippe Falardeau.
Falardeau adapted and expanded Evelyn de la Cheneliere's one-act stage play of the same name into an award winning, unsentimental, powerful and subtle drama that will win your heart and isn't afraid to step into recognisable scenarios that nowadays make national press coverage and are focal points for debate and challenge.
This is Philippe Falardeau's fourth feature and his typicaly modest comment "I've never considered myself as an artist" isn't borne out by the critical acclaim given to previous works : The Left Side of the Fridge (La Moitie Gauche Frigo) won Best First Feature at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival, Congorema (2006) premiered at the Directors Fortnight at Cannes and won a Genie (Canadian Oscar) for Best Screenplay and It's Not Me I Swear (C'est Pas Moi, je le jure) won Beat Film at Toronto and the International Jury Award in the Generation Section of the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.
As if by magic Bachir Lazhar appears at the school, offers his services as a substitute teacher and is readily accepted. His gentleness, quirky humour, compassion and dedication gradually earn him the trust of the class but cultural differences begin to surface - Bachir's desire to impart higher learning grinds to a halt with the realisation that the students have no idea who Balzac is and a dictation from one of his works proves too hard. Add to that the differences between Quebecois and Algerian French and the problems begin to mount but this doesn't deter Bachir from his quest.
Allowing the class to grieve draws Bachir to two charasmatic pupils, both deeply affected by their teacher's death, Alice (Sophie Nelise), the child of a single mother who works as an airline pilot and is rarely home (Evelyn de la Cheneliere makes a cameo appearance as Alice's mother) and Simon (Emilien Neron) who carries a guilty secret. In helping the class to deal with their grief Bachir's own recent loss and emotional turmoil is revealed. Monsieur Lazhar touches on some of the taboos of our politically correct era - the education system, physical contact when a hug is instinctively natural and healing, a 'specialist' rather than the teacher to deal with the grieving process., the politics of immigration, national culture and every teacher investing something of themselves in their class all of which bring Bachir into conflict with his colleagues. This exquisite fable of loss and belonging from the producers of Incendies (Director Denis Villeneuve 2010) presents a panorama of ideas and emotions that envelope Bachir and the class. Gentle, beautiful, politically astute, sensitive, emotional and ever so watchable. It was a stroke of genius to cast Mohammed Fellage (generally known as Fellage) as Bachir Lazhar. Forced to flee Algeria during the brutal 1990s civil war, lionized by North Africans in Paris but little known outside of those communities, Fellage conveys dignity and fragility in an award winning performance but it's the stunning child actors particularly Sophie Nelise (Alice) and Emilien Neron (Simon) that hold you and fill the screen with heart rending emotion in this story of universal compassion. The simple and exquisitely beautiful final scene with Bachir and Alice defines the quality of Monsieur Lazhar.
'A classroom is a place of friendship, of work, of courtesy, a place of life" - Bachir Lazhar
Philippe Falardeau is currently working on a black comedy provisionally titled Prescottt Etc. - set in rural Quebec, an MP holds the balance of power on an important parliamentary vote.