Bringing Luck to the Classroom
It was just a normal day in a Montreal school, that is until one student having collected the milk for class comes across a much loved teacher having hung herself in the classroom. As the principal, Mme. Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx), arranges for the children to see a psychiatrist to deal with their loss immigrant Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) approaches her over the job of replacement teacher. Having not long been in Montreal having come from Algeria he is coming to terms with the culture where the French spoken is not exactly the same as that spoken in Algeria whilst dealing with his own personal turmoil. But Lazhar is aware of the children's grief and despite the warnings of Vaillancourt feels that to help them through their emotions they should talk openly about them.
Here I find myself feeling like a double cop-out because on one hand "Monsieur Lazhar" is one of those movies which is so rich and beautiful that it needs to be watched to appreciate. Yet at the same time I need to tell you something, a spoiler, as to make sense of the movie so that you can see why you should watch it. So apologies in advance for this review of "Monsieur Lazhar" as it is not what you would normally get from me.
Now "Monsieur Lazhar" fits into that category of inspirational teacher movies, you know the sort where the new teacher manages to get through to a troubled classroom. Yet at the same time "Monsieur Lazhar" is very different because the children in question are not troublemakers, yes a little mischievous at times but are good kids except they have been left traumatized by the death of a much loved teacher in their classroom, where they still go for lessons. And the rigid school system is letting them down as the principal feels that they're are best cared for by a psychiatrist and showing the children any affection, even a passing pat on the head is wrong. This alone makes "Monsieur Lazhar" a much more touching movie and that is before we get to the subject of Lazhar himself.
Now this is the spoiler bit because as we watch "Monsieur Lazhar" we see that Lazhar has great empathy with his class knowing that they need more than sessions with a psychiatrist to deal with their loss and emotions. Why? Well we slowly discover that Lazhar himself is dealing with loss and a situation on the outside of class which is complicated. I won't go in to detail but we see why he shows the children in the class such kindness, caring and understanding.
Now the key to all of this for me is Mohamed Fellag who strongly reminded me of Roberto Benigni, not just having a slightly similar look but in that he brings humour, drama and compassion to his character which makes him so easy to like even before we discover his back story. But all the performances in "Monsieur Lazhar" are of a high standard with the young children bringing honesty to their portrayals which makes it feel like we are in a real class rather than a staged one.
What this all boils down to is that "Monsieur Lazhar" whilst an inspirational teacher movie is not like any other you will come across and will move you even if you don't speak French and have to read the subtitles.