Canadian writer/director Philippe Falardeau has adapted this touching story from the award-winning one-man stage play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere. This emotive and tender film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar and was also won the 2012 Sydney Film Festival Audience Award.
Monsieur Lazhar follows the collective sorrow experienced by a school community after a teacher commits suicide in her classroom. Upon seeing an advertisement for the replacement position, Bashir Lazhar – played by Algerian star Mohamed Fellag – approaches the principal to take on the grief-stricken class. However, he isn’t without his own demons, having fled terrorism in Algeria as an asylum-seeker to search for a better life in Montreal.
As the film unfolds, we see a beautiful depth and honesty from the cast members depicting the young school children. One performance that in particular caught my attention was Alice, played by Sophie Nélisse from the current buzz film The Book Thief. Even at her young age there’s a sense that she has a long and successful career ahead. Her range of emotion and onscreen presence are admirable.
There were a few moments where I felt as though the director underestimates the viewer, not allowing us to connect the dots for ourselves, and perhaps divulging a little too much information or overexposing the narrative.
Although this film deals with contentious issues such as suicide and asylum-seeking, it does so in such a sweet and gentle manner that makes these topics accessible to all audiences.
Monsieur Lazhar – a tender and heartbreaking story told with great honesty and integrity.