Monsieur Lazhar

Monsier Lazhar is a quiet unassuming little drama. Our story begins after an elementary school teacher commits suicide. She hangs herself in the very classroom where she teaches her students. From that shocking, but tastefully presented event, we are introduced to Bachir Lazhar. He’s an immigrant from Algeria who applies for the position of teaching her class. Due to a lack of candidates, he’s quickly hired to replace her. A guarded fellow, Lazhar is something of an enigma. He connects with his students in the face of the cultural gap between them. But something does not compute. His teaching methods are odd. He gives dictation lessons by reading selections from Honoré de Balzac novels. His suggestion for a future field trip is to take his class to see The Imaginary Invalid, a three-act comédie-ballet by French playwright Molière. Both kind of advanced for grade school, wouldn’t you say?  Although the children are perplexed by all this, they do respond to his emotional support. They confront the death of their beloved teacher encouraged by Monsieur Lazhar as he helps them through that grief. In actuality, this teacher is a man with a past. He likewise has his own issues with which he must deal. A man with life experiences that make him rather well equipped for the job. As these revelations come to light, there is a genuine poignancy that never rings false.

Monsier Lazhar is captivating by presenting an honest account, simple and unadorned. It’s a lyrical drama with the rhythms of a play out of the early 1970s. The screenplay is in fact developed from a one-character play by Canadian actress Évelyne de la Chenelière. It’s a soft focus presentation of the emotional damage a tragedy has on a group of young students and the methods their teacher utilizes to comfort them. He gives them a lot of credit and treats them accordingly. The script has pointed commentary on how children cope with the death in contrast to their parents and the rest of the faculty at the school. Yet, despite the film’s title, the students are the true stars here. There’s not one precocious brat amongst the cast. 2 kids in particular give performances of depth and maturity. Actress Sophie Nélisse is the mature beyond her years Alice. Her straightforward, no nonsense personality feels just like a real child. And then there’s actor Émilien Néron as Simon who seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. His feelings of guilt coming to a head in one particularly cathartic scene. These are highlights in a tale that at times can be vague and underdeveloped. This French Canadian nominee for 2012’s Best Foreign Language Film is a relatively slight production. There are times the whole affair can be a bit underwhelming, but the subtlety and discretion with which the story unfolds is commendable.

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13 Responses to “Monsieur Lazhar”

  1. This was very slowly paced. I dozed off a little. I thought the ending was very good. And yes, I agree the two young actors were very good.

  2. Great review, as always!

  3. Really want to see this. The plot looks incredibly interesting to me. Phenomenal review.

    • Appreciate that. think you’ll really like it, Alexander.

      • Yeah, I’m fucking annoyed by the theaters nearby me. I’ve been checking for this one ever since it got its main release this year. Not one theater within 50 miles of me is playing it. ;( So sad this Best Foreign Language nom will have to wait till DVD…

  4. moviewriting Says:

    Great review, I’ve not heard of this but really interested to see it now. Thanks Mark!

  5. I finally got around to seeing this one. I’d agree with your three stars. On one hand, it was well-acted and -scripted. On another, it was a bit too slow, dare I say a bit boring as a result. I felt, at times, as if I was watching a bastardization of Ordinary People.

    • Ordinary People? Hmm that’s an interesting comparison. Monsieur Lazhar’s focus on teacher and students kind of reminds me of movies like Stand and Deliver and Mr. Holland’s Opus.

      • I was actually surprised how few comparisons I’d heard between this film and Ordinary People. In Ordinary People, the parents are trying to move on from their son’s death, while it’s nearly impossible for their younger son. In Monsieur Lazhar, the professeur seems to be trying to move on from his own troubles, while the students are still traumatized by their own.

    • Have you seen Rabbit Hole, a 2010 drama starring Nicole Kidman? That shares a lot more similarities to Ordinary People AND it’s very very good. Rabbit Hole was one of the best pictures of the year for me.

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