Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
directed by Philippe Falardeau
French with English subtitles
94 minutes

Monsieur Lazhar joins Être et avoir (dir. Nicolas Philibert, 2002) as one of the great films about teaching. Philippe Falardeau’s film is also about displacement, loss, memory, and guilt, and it offers a reminder that every participant in a classroom, student or teacher, enters with a history whose details might be impossible for others to imagine.

Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, billed as “Fellag”) is an Algerian immigrant in Montreal, working as a substitute teacher in a classroom of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. He is an old-school fellow, arranging the desks in rows and requiring daily dictation (Balzac, at first). But he is no martinet: he is compassionate, funny, and devoted to his students. He is no Robin Williams character either: there’s no treacle here. That M. Lazhar succeeds is testimony both to his ability and to his students’ willingness to accept a newcomer and learn on his terms. His terms: the only other men at the school are a gym teacher and a janitor.

As Elaine observes, it’s easy at times to forget that this film is a fiction and not a documentary. The acting is a matter of understatement; the cameras are often handheld. Fellag and young Sophie Nélisse (as Alice L’Écuyer, M. Lazhar’s favorite student) give brilliant performances. I saw the film with an audience that must have been full of teachers: the laughter came from those on the inside.

My favorite moment: M. Lazhar’s discourse on the classroom as a place of friendship, work, and courtesy. May it ever be thus.

Monsieur Lazhar arrives on DVD on August 28. Three cheers for east-central Illinois’s Art Theater for getting hold of this film.

[Do Canadian schoolchildren typically call their teachers by their first names? Inquiring minds want to know.]

comments: 2

Sean said...

You've already mentioned my favorite line, but here's another (paraphrased):

"I am afraid for the children. Afraid, that once they are grown, they will still speak as children."

Michael Leddy said...

That rings true in many ways for college teachers too, I’d say.