Florida Film Festival Review: Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar

Today, you work with kids like with radioactive waste. Hands off or you’ll get burned!

- Gaston

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year (and rightly so!), Monsieur Lazhar tells the deceptively simple story of a substitute teacher who takes over teaching for an elementary school class after their teacher hangs herself… in her classroom, during recess. The core of the film is how the students, parents, and faculty deal with the tragedy that so concretely defines itself inside the walls of the school. However, as the audience soon finds out, those affected by the suicide are not the only ones working to overcome grief and loss. Bashir Lazhar (Algerian actor Mohamed Fellag) has some secrets of his own.

Beautifully told, powerfully felt, and with a certain manner that can only come from Quebec (when it’s suggested that the students switch classrooms so they aren’t learning in the same room their teacher killed herself, the school principle exclaims “I thought of switching classes, but it’s like dumping your snow in a neighbor’s yard.”), Monsieur Lazhar is at its heart a story about accepting change and saying goodbye. It is about the resilience of children, and the adults who project their own psyche on said children. As Alice (played by Sophie Nélisse) says, “Everyone thinks we’re tramautized. It’s the adults who are.”

In a school where all the adults have such drastic impact on the children, the one rule that is continuously brought up is that of touch. Teachers cannot touch the children be it a slap, a hug, a pat on the back.. As much as a teacher may wish to punish a pupil with a quick slap on the wrist, it is considered a serious offense, which chafes at the faculty. Though they do not understand how a simple touch can have such profound impact on their students, little do they know that a hug and lack of goodbye are at the heart of Simon’s (played by Émilien Néron) grief. Both a critique and an affirmation of the rules we as a society create, Monsieur Lazhar delves into the human aspect of education, where nothing is so cut and dry. And despite all the rules and regulations, the grief, guilt, and anger; the film ends on the perfect note to tie everything together: a simple hug.

10 / 10

Title Country / Year Genre
Monsieur Lazhar Canada 2011 Comedy / Drama
Director Starring Runtime
Philippe Falardeau Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron 94 Mins

“The Little Man” rating system from the San Francisco Chronicle

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