MONSIEUR LAZHAR: A Review

Bachir Lazhar is a middle-aged Algerian immigrant seeking political refuge in Quebec. Bachir jumps at the opportunity to replace a Montreal elementary school teacher who committed suicide one night after class. The school’s overworked principal is initially relieved. The story focuses on Bachir’s relationship with two of his pupils: a ten-year-old boy traumatized by discovering the body of his teacher, and a girl whose interpretation of the event and resentment toward her friend provoke unforeseen revelations. To these children in shock, Bachir’s traditional teaching methods may well provide the structure they need.

 

Monsieur Lazhar starring Mohamed Fellag
Monsieur Lazhar starring Mohamed Fellag

 

Bachir means “bearer of good news” and I am your Bachir for this review to let you know this film is superb. It is heart warming, has a strong message, is acted stunningly and looks so crisp and beautiful onscreen. It was a delight to watch, subtitles and all.

 

Monsieur Lazhar, Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron

 

The film is not your typical school classroom drama, it is a junior school for a start and the kids are just all that, young kids, not little actors trying to be smarter than they are, they are real and suffering from real things in a real world, no gloss. They are suffering after the loss of their teacher and Bachir sees an opportunity and takes it for the love of the children. He has his motives that we later discover through the film and they make you love the story more. It has no huge reveals, no big Hollywood moments, it just is what it is and does it subtly but with more power than most Hollywood films and why you ask? (you know you did) It never thinks the audience is stupid.

 

Monsieur Lazhar, Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron

 

The message of the film is love, caring, kindness, courtesy, compassion and death. It encompasses guilt and looks into how the laws considering working with children are out of control. How you can’t hug a student or a young child who needs a hug if they are not yours because it could be construed as molestation. Bachir slaps it in the face and does not believe in this. He has lost and he loves and if a child needs a slap on the top of the head because he deserves it or a sad child needs a hug because they are emotionally distraught he is there. He does not cotton wool the world, he lives it. It reminds me of when I was younger and my grandfather passed away. He meant the world to me and was the male love of my life and I was not allowed to attend the funeral. It was not a place for distraught children at the time and the adults were already distraught enough without a bawling child there to make them sadder. As the film says “It is not the children who are messed up (I think they used another word), it is the adults” – they are trying to do what is right by analyzing and thinking things through with committees and for what they deem the best methods to solve things to avoid lawsuits or offending anyone. But no one actually does anything – the world is not meant to be rose coloured the whole time. Bachir helps the children grow up by confronting the issues of the story and the film tells it so well there were a few little teary eyed moments.

 

Monsieur Lazhar, Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron

 

There are so many elements in this film that make it a success but the most important and strongest part of the film is the cast. It is flawless acting. When some Hollywood big shot said “Never act with animals or children” they were so so so wrong – perhaps bratty US children (just kidding) but not these French Canadian kids – them along with Bachir and all the other adults are just stunning to watch. For such a huge bunch of kids the scenes are perfect. Sophie Nelisse as Alice and Emilien Neron as Simon just steal the movie and your hearts. They are two kids dealing with intense emotions and were the only two children to see the “body”. With Simon I wasn’t sure whether to like him or hate him but as his story develops you know why he does what he does and you want to give him the hug and reassurances that Bachir and Alice do.

 

Monsieur Lazhar, Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron

 

The cinematography by Ronald Plante is stunning. It is so clean and high def looking it jumps off the screen. It is done with a high contrasting polarised look and the whites are very white and the blacks very black. The use of simplicity in Bachir’s classroom compared to art works and coloured items in the other classrooms really set up the characters more and also allowed us a main vein look at the characters without distraction – it always made them the centre of attention. It also explained how items meant little to Bashir, it was people who did. Also a great canvas for the character’s personalities to be painted on.

 

Monsieur Lazhar, Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron

 

This film has won award after award the world over, including the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Sydney Film Festival. The list of foreign awards numbers 26 and I am not listing them but unfortunately it was pipped at the post for the 2012 Best Foreign Film Oscar. Monsieur Lazhar is actually out now at some art house theatres still but has also just released on DVD. I insist you watch it – it is a great film. I award the film 10 out of 10 Little Lunch Milk Cartons.