Sunday, 22 April 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

Another Canadian film, one which was nominated for best foreign language film Oscar. Monsieur Lazhar is set in Montreal in an Elementary School with a class of 13/4 year-olds. It begins in the depths of snowy winter and throughout the story the cycle of the seasons mirrors the emotional and psychological health of the class.

One morning, Simon the milk monitor, discovers that their class teacher Martine, has hanged herself in the classroom. Trauma. An Algerian immigrant pitches up at the school claiming to be a teacher and offers to take on the class. The under-pressure Principal accepts the offer and so Bashir Lazhar sets to work. His methods seem clumsy and out of kilter with the ultra politically correct Québécois education system - yet his style and gentle empathy endear him to the children and colleagues alike.

The School brings in a Psychologist who excludes Lahzar from her sessions with the class much to his incredulity. As the story goes on, the effects of the event on the children emerge in different ways. The adults - teachers and parents alike - all 'hush up' what has happened and cut off the children's opportunities to achieve healing for their emotional wounds. Lahzar takes a much more holistic approach - informed by his differing cultural reference points and his own bitter personal experience - to use creativity and metaphor as tools of healing self-expression for his charges.

Lazhar's methods begin to work but the path is bumpy as the children's behaviour often puts them on a collision course with their parents who are less able and willing to process and deal with the consequences of Martine's suicide.

Needless to say there are many sub-plots going on within the story and I will not spoil it for you by discussing them or the outcome. This film is a strong as it is sensitive, as insightful as it condemning of system that has been hijacked by empty principles that serve nothing more than a detached an inhuman philosophy. The warmth of Lazhar (played by the Paris-based comedian Fellag) is captivating and the acting of the children has a natural energy and spontaneity that is both compelling and completely believable.

This film is so new it not yet available outside Region 1, but when it is, I for one will certainly be getting a copy. It is a gem - a story about loss, exile and how adults control what children may be allowed to feel and think. As soon as you get the chance - go and see it. I'll give 8.5/10.

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