Yo, teach! – Monsieur Lazhar review

Monsieur LazharStarring Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, and Emilien Neron. Directed by Philippe Falardeau. By Jess Lomas.

Monsieur Lazhar plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 8, 2012. It arrives in Australian cinemas September 6, 2012.

Writer director Philippe Falardeau has but a handful of credits to his name, and yet his latest went on to become a 2012 Best Foreign Language Film nominee. With such an achievement to its name, Monsieur Lazhar delivers as a touching and thought provoking exploration of loss and grief.

After the suicide of their beloved teacher, a class struggles to move beyond this violent exposure to the adult world. When their new teacher Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) arrives, he aims to help his class move beyond this tragedy – a task made harder as the late teacher’s ghost haunts her students’ minds – whilst hiding his own secrets and demons from them. Emigrating from Algeria to Montreal and fleeing terrorism in his home land, will Lazhar open up and share his misfortune with his students, and can they learn something from one another about life?

What impresses initially about this movie are the performances from its young cast, who can vary between naive, vulnerable, funny, and heart wrenching in the short 94 minute run time. In particular two performances strike as mature beyond the actors’ years; Sophie Nelisse as Alice, a bookworm and one of the children to witness their teacher hanging in the classroom, and Emilien Neron, a troublemaker and photo enthusiast who feels guilt over his teacher’s death.

While the picture deals with issues of grief and guilt, examining both the children’s confusion and the teachers’ helplessness over the incident, it also seeks to make a statement about the shift in teacher-student relationships. Gone are the days of being able to offer a student a hug; a hilarious gym teacher laments how hard it is to teach the pommel horse when you can’t even touch the child. As Lazhar attempts to connect with his students and move beyond his own anguish, he and the audience discover, as many would have in real life by now, that children are no longer allowed to remain children for as long as they used to.

Fellag delivers a competent performance as Lazhar, exhibiting an inner sadness and a longing to be happy once more. The joy brought to him by his students contributes to the tear-inducing ending, which rattles the heart. A film that lives up to the hype, Monsieur Lazhar holds a mirror up to life and shows that in death new beginnings can thrive.

4/5

Monsieur Lazhar plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 8, 2012. It arrives in Australian cinemas September 6, 2012.

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