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Review: ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ – a French-Canadian film worth watching

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

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I sat down to watch ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ having forgotten that this French-language film is a Canadian production, not a French one. This meant that I sat through a good part of the movie wondering why on earth the actors all sounded so strange. I figured it out eventually (mostly because the word ‘Canada’ comes up a few times), but it was confusing there for a while.

Despite being distracted by the strange-sounding language, I was captivated by this film from the very first minute to the last.

We’re introduced to our young protagonists, Alice (Sophie Nélisse) and Simon (Émilien Néron), almost immediately. Not only are they excellent actors, they are both utterly adorable.

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We first see them in the schoolyard, being very natural: just children, being children. I was so happy watching them in that scene that even though I already knew they were about to discover a dead teacher swinging from the ceiling, I was still surprised when it happened.

Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) comes in a little later, and what an interesting character he is. There’s always the risk that a character like his will be overdone – that the audience will be told who and what the character is rather than shown.

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Thankfully, Lazhar’s character was developed over the course of the film with great subtlety. Fellag played it well, conveying whole stories in small gestures and movements.

A real standout moment for me was the parent-teacher interview scene. We have what I imagine is the only instance of outright racism in the film: Lazhar’s opinion of a student is casually dismissed by her parents on the basis that he is ‘not from here’ and therefore doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Without saying a word – by simply shifting back in his chair a little – Fellag manages to perfectly convey the anger his character feels at the remark.

I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that the issues of immigration and racism weren’t explored in more depth. But I was more disappointed when the credits started to roll – the end came about a little abruptly, perhaps because I didn’t expect the narrative to stop where it did. It felt like a shorter film than it actually was.

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I’m also still confused as to what exactly motivated Lazhar to apply for the teacher position. I can’t understand why he did it, given his situation. (If anybody figures it out, can you let me know? Thanks.)

All in all though, I highly enjoyed it. For a film dealing with serious issues like depression, suicide, and refugees, it has a suprising amount of chuckle-out-loud humour. By the end, I had laughed, gasped, squirmed, and cried. I walked out of Cinema Nova with a big smile on my face and bursting with all sorts of thoughts and feelings.

A beautifully filmed, beautifully written story about the impact of death on children and adults alike, ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ is well worth your time.

Image Credits:
1. Class photo, via Palace Films
2. Simon and Alice, via Rotten Tomatoes
3. Bachir Lazhar, via Rotten Tomatoes
4. Alice, via Palace Films


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