A harrowing loss of innocence gives way to a deeply humane portrait of pedagogy.
Philippe Falardeau’s Academy Award-nominated tale took out the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival, and rightfully so: it’s a film that will make you want to find and hug your favourite school teacher!
The titular Algerian (Mohamed Fellag) arrives at a Montréal public middle school in the wake of a tragedy. A Year Six class reels from the suicide of their teacher, with two students in particular – Simon (Émilien Néron) and Alice (Sophie Nélisse) – bearing the brunt of the emotional aftermath. Seemingly well qualified, Bachir Lazhar takes over the class, and his combination of classic texts and old-school formality helps the children come to terms with their grief.
Shot with a light, naturalistic touch, and featuring simply beautiful performances from Néron and Nélisse, Monsieur Lazhar is a film to cherish. Falardeau weaves in broader themes of threat and protection, but eschews morbidity by grounding the film in Fellag’s wonderfully compassionate lead role. Indeed, Monsieur Lazhar is destined to find its place among the cinematic teaching canon alongside To Sir, With Love and Dead Poet’s Society.
You could be forgiven for thinking this music, by Morricone protégé Martin Léon, was written by Yann Tiersen. Here are those same simple waltzes, played on a piano and sounding for all the world like a Grade 2 examination piece. This childlike naivety is, of course, an apt reflection of the setting, but it’s still derivative. The Quebec film industry thinks otherwise, though, and have given it their Jutra Award for Best Score.
This article appeared in the September, 2012 issue of Limelight Magazine.
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