Monsieur Lazhar

Directed By: Philippe Falardeau

Starring: Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron, Danielle Proulx, Brigitte Poupart, and Jules Philip

A child's innocence is a one-time deal.  Once it's gone, it's gone for good.  That's why we as a society value it so much.  When a child is robbed of this innocence, it's a true tragedy.  That's why it's so incomprehensible that a suicidal teacher would hang herself in a classroom for all the school to see.  That's the problem with which we're dealing in Philippe Falardeau's Canadian drama Monsieur Lazhar.

When Martine Lachance (Héléna Laliberté) decides to commit suicide in her classroom, her students are forever scarred emotionally.  In particular, Simon (Émilien Néron) and Alice (Sophie Nélisse) actually see Martine's lifeless carcass hanging in her classroom and must suffer through the emotional distress of witnessing such a trauma.  With a faculty member dead, Principal Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx) is in search of a new teacher to try and help her students move forward after this grave tragedy.  Nobody wants the job though.

When Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) offers his services, he makes the principal an offer she can't refuse.  Lazhar quickly endears his class and challenges the status quo at the school to help his students overcome the tragic suicide of their previous teacher.  Meanwhile, Lazhar fights to get asylum in Canada as a refugee after his family was murdered in Algeria.

Monsieur Lazhar is a really heartwarming film that skillfully tackles the issue of suicide and what it means for young people.  As Lazhar helps his students overcome the untimely death of their previous instructor, he gets a taste of all sorts of kids.  This makes him increasingly more aware of the disconnect that exists between the kids and the adults.  Students like Simon are trees that don't show any emotion whatsoever about the trauma through which they have suffered.  They just withstand the storm and bottle everything up.  Then, there are chrysalises like Alice who are much more mature than they seem.  They're not given the appropriate forum to express their emotions and show how much they’ve grown from their trials except in Bachir Lazhar's classroom.  Out of this tragedy comes a strong, lasting bond between Lazhar and his students. 

Monsieur Lazhar is a movie characterized by strong performances and smart filmmaking.  Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron, and Danielle Proulx give very nuanced performances.  Director Philippe Falardeau puts together a movie that's subtle and restrained yet emotive and touching.  There's even quite a bit of humor throughout the film as well.  The kids’ classroom antics add a certain charm that balances the movie quite well in the midst of intense grief.  I recommend a little champagne with this flick.  Monsieur Lazhar gets a 0.03% rating.