For Reel

Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
June 30, 2012, 7:33 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Philippe Falardeau

On the surface of it, Monsieur Lazhar looks to be a safe pick for a nomination in the Best Foreign Language category at the Academy Awards. In fact, it seems safe no matter the context – this rooting itself from the “inspirational teacher” genre, in which one remarkable person cultivates a transformation in a room full of scoundrels. Director Philippe Falardeau has much more on his mind than expected with the trope, however. Whereas Laurent Cantet’s The Class was a sort of anti-inspirational teacher movie in that it explored, among other things, an utter failure to communicate, Monsieur Lazhar is not so much a film about grieving, but about the institutions in place that prevent true human connection. In the opening scene, it is revealed that a beloved teacher at a middle school has hung herself in her classroom. The titular Bachir Lazhar, an inexperienced Algerian man applying for political asylum, presents himself to the school’s principle and suggests that he’s the correct man to replace her. In an improbable turn of events, he is given the opportunity to do so. Lazhar’s fullest intentions are unknown, but having recently suffered the death of a loved one himself, it would appear that he is looking to experience a kinship with the students. Of course, however, the administration at the school and the parents of the children are not happy with Lazhar bringing up the suicide, and they are especially stringent about him having any physical contact with the kids, which includes comforting touches and hugs. The setting of the classroom becomes a microcosm for society as a whole, with Falardeau perhaps suggesting that we’ve all become so guarded, so restricted by socially accepted manners that we’ve lost the forum to come together and simply embrace our fellow man.

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