Every Wednesday, Art House Film Wire will feature one of our favorite films. Why? Just because! With most theatres closed and home sweet home suddenly becoming our 24/7 work-living space, trips to the movies only consist of taking a left from the kitchen and finding a spot on the couch.
Hopefully, you find a place on your calendar to see “Monsieur Lazhar” (2011), a film from Montréal that earned a 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination.
In the U.S., it’s available on Netflix DVD, but if you don’t want to wait, “Monsieur Lazhar” is listed on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99 USD and iTunes for $3.99 USD.
“Monsieur Lazhar” (2011) – Starting over is not supposed to be easy.
Positive examples of change, like leaving high school for college, starting your first job, or switching careers might generate plenty of excitement and enthusiasm, but darker events, like divorce or the death of a loved one require ample time for healing.
“Writer/director Philippe Falardeau’s picture features a heartfelt story about starting over from horrific tragedies and needing kindness and compassion to mend broken spirits. The party in question is a small group of elementary school students in Montreal, Quebec who suffer from a terrible loss. With no space to ship the kids to another classroom, the brand-new paint on the emotionally-stained walls is their only distraction from ugly reminders.
Enter Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag).
An approachable man, Bachir owns a passion for teaching. Monsieur Lazhar applies for a job at the school, instantly wins over the principal and now leads the hurting classroom. He greets the class by defining his own name: “Bachir means ‘bearer of good news’, and Lazhar translates to ‘lucky’.”
“And the good news is, I’m lucky to be here with you,” he adds.
The skeptical children know right away that Bachir – an Algerian immigrant slogging through the slush and snow of Quebec – is a fish out of water, as he delivers his conjugation lessons and tries to help them heal with altruism, respect and discipline. On the surface, “Monsieur Lazhar” initially seems like other school dramas played out many, many times over the decades, but that’s not so. This movie’s spirit shines brightly with exceptional lathered-with-symbolism writing and strong, convincing performances from the entire cast.
Even though not nominated, Fellag turns in an Oscar-worthy performance. He effortlessly dials in Bachir’s varying moods, between an uncomfortable classroom leader to a soft-spoken colleague while trying to also shake his very recent past. Key child actors also bring convincing and moving moments to the screen. Simon (Emilien Neron) expresses his suffering through brazen outbursts, but Alice (Sophie Nelisse) brings genuine warmth as an insightful student who soon idolizes her teacher. Despite the kids’ urgency to turn the page, Bachir has to make the biggest leaps to overcome the past. Compared to the children, he might have vast experience to cushion the blows, but make no mistake, his pain runs deep too.
Falardeau doesn’t solve big, sweeping problems or change the world, but instead, he expresses intricate relationships stemming from the base of difficult problems. He wraps his arms around subtle moments of humanity and connection, and without realizing it, this picture sneaks up on us with its affecting power.
Image credits: Music Box Films; Trailer credits: PalaceFilms