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Monsieur Lazhar

by on August 27, 2012
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In the longstanding tradition of such inspirational films as “To Sir, with Love” and “Stand and Deliver,” “Monsieur Lazhar” is yet another proud entry in the long legacy of films about educators.

However, unlike the aforementioned films, “Monsieur Lazhar” is not centered around a classroom rife with violence and low test scores but rather a group of children grieving the recent suicide of their beloved teacher. In the wake of her untimely death enters new teacher Bashir Lazhar, whose experience is questionable at best but whose passion is immeasurable.

Fleeing from his native Algeria due to death threats made against his family, Bashir is forced to adapt to his drastic change in environment. Teaching a classroom full of rattled elementary students proves to come with its own set of challenges as well. Between juggling the emotional wellbeing of the children and coping with the deaths of his family back home in Algeria, Bashir finds himself struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Amid the student body exists a plethora of different personalities, but two stand out.  Simon is somewhat of a troublemaker who had the misfortune of being a first-hand witness to his teacher’s death. Alongside with teacher’s pet Alice, the two kids represent a proverbial yin and yang. Simon has built up a great deal of guilt in trying to cope with the loss of his teacher while Alice mourns her death by seeking the approval of Mr. Lazhar.

Meanwhile, Bashir attempts to heal his own heart.  In fact, the kids basically mirror Mr. Lazhar in every way. Both are coping with the loss of a loved one, both are dealing with a change of environments, and both parties seek the acceptance of the other. It is in this mutual hurt that Mr. Lazhar and the children begin to bond. For a drama with a rather heavy sense of foreboding, “Monsieur Lazhar” has enough lightheartedness to bring a smile to your face. It’s a well-rounded film from top to bottom.

The entire cast, especially the kids, are excellent.  Alice, played by Sophie Nelisse, performs years beyond her age. The script simply transcends language. Despite being in French, the film has a very renowned universal appeal. Unlike a number of French language films where the humor gets somewhat lost in translation, “Monsieur Lazhar” has a quirky appeal to it that will resonate with viewers regardless of native tongue.

There’s also a great deal of contrast between the youthful cast and its venerable lead actor. It’s a delight to see the two interact so effortlessly. Mr. Lazhar is played by veteran actor Mohamed Said Fellag, who is perfectly suited for the role. His lighthearted approach to the role really brings a great deal of depth to his character. Alongside the stellar acting is an inexplicably familiar story told through a unique perspective — the concept of death as seen through the eyes of a child versus the concept of death as seen through the eyes of a grown adult. These contrasting perspectives manage to round out the film beautifully.  Overall, the film is a sincere feel-good movie without being overtly corny in the least bit.

The Blu-ray release of “Monsieur Lazhar” has a slew of in-depth featurettes, including a sit-down interview with director Philippe Falardeau and writer Evelyne de la Cheneliére.  Also included on this are Alice and Simon original audition tapes, which solidifies why the young actors were chosen for the roles without a shadow of a doubt.

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 5 Yaps