Cultural alert: to understand the subtext, you must live in North America and comprehend the “hands-off” education system in Canada and similarly in US (punk intended)!
Bafflement. Irony. Transcendence.
How terrible it is for a 11 years old to witness such indignation, and violent treatment of a human being: Simon (Émilien Néron) sees his teacher Martine hanged herself in his home room. Alice (Sophie Nélisse) follows suit as if there is an enigmatic pull. While the adults (teachers) walk on egg-shells, ostrich-in-the-sand, and waiting for the event to go away, the kids are the ones who transcend from such tragic event, sadly with little help from these adults and their parents, except Bachir Lazhar.
M. Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) comes to the principal office shortly after reading the news in the paper. “Why-me” principal, Mme Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx), hires Bachir out of desperation or as opportunity knocks. M. Lazhar claims to have taught in Algeria for 16 years. The first class is dictation out of oeuvre Balzac, rearranging desks in rows, re-establishment of teacher and student roles. In other words: respect.
Of course, a psychologist is assigned to deal with the students’ trauma. Psychologist deals with psychology, teacher deals with pedagogy, eh! clean and simple, no cross-contamination, please, proclaimed the psychologist.
M.Lazhar, new to the country, new to the classroom, learns as he goes. He is baffled with how another classroom is organized with African violets, pictures, students’ assignments, … while his is as plain as four walls. Is that better education? do students thrive in there with so much comradeship? he wonders. M.Lazhar’s teaching is based on his experience as student himself: grammar, dictation, conjugation, composition. M. Lazhar’s wife was a teacher in Algeria, he worked in a restaurant.
Parents raise their kids, teachers teach their kids, and please do not cross that line either! However, when it comes to such a traumatic event, parents ask how the school will handle it. Irony?
Alice transfers her grief in her composition about violence in school, and Simon un-loads his guilt in front of his class coerced by Alice, out of their friendship. M. Lazhar begins his new life as permanent resident after a successful refugee hearing but now must abandon his students and through his own composition, he explains…
It’s a good movie, especially towards the end, but because of its limited distributions, I say RENT.
- Monsieur Lazhar: An unforgettable tale, artfully told (theglobeandmail.com)
- Review: Monsieur Lazhar, Canada’s Oscar contender (arts.nationalpost.com)