would experience either an inspirational teacher bringing his or her own passion
and dedication to inner-city students so full of potential (but seen by previous teachers as beyond hope), or would experience an
inspirational teacher bringing his or her passion and dedication to capable but
bored suburban students who, until now, have taken what they have for granted. Occasional aberrations
would place a mercenary in a school as an undercover substitute, replacing — perhaps — a teacher-girlfriend who had been knee-capped by her students, or a teacher-brother
who had been murdered (violence resulting from that teacher’s discovery
of, for example, a massive drug operation being run from the basement of the school).
Lazhar, a Quebec-based picture and Oscar nominee for Best
Foreign Language Film, has other interests. An elementary classroom in Montreal has
experienced the unexpected death of its teacher, and Monsieur Lazhar, claiming to have taught in Algeria for nineteen years and to now be be a permanent resident of Canada, presents himself as being able to immediately fill the
vacancy left by the dead teacher.
After Lazhar places the desks of his students in neat lines (rather than in groups) one
colleague responds that it has been years since she has seen this. Also, Monsieur
Lazhar seems not to have received any Memo about physical contact with the
children as, without much hesitation, he smacks one misbehaving boy across the
head (Lazhar, after a student tells him to apologize, is told that he is not in Saudi Arabia
anymore). Lazhar does not know
what to do with the lap-top left by his predecessor, uses the writings of
Balzac in his dictations to students, and speaks to his students in prehistoric,
Balzac-like language. His classroom is as colourless as a hospital, and his
experimentation with methods of classroom control (like counting backwards from
five, for example) are not particularly effective.
|Students Simon and Alice|
And yet when Monsieur
Lazhar presents himself to the principal for employment he offers as
credentials his own love for children. It is a subtle enough moment but when Lazhar is at a post office waiting for a parcel he turns around to scan through
a display of stickers. He is not just killing time, here. His life is revolving around
the children he teaches. The students loved their dead teacher, Martine, and
Lazhar has to help them through this loss. It is his own love and gentleness — not
lengthy speeches, nor tricks of pedagogy like standing on a desk or ripping
pages out of textbook — which makes a difference in his student’s lives.
happens in real classrooms, director Philippe Falardieu seems to understand children
of this age very well. He presents them as the complex individuals they are (the little
girl Alice, for example, is insightful and oblivious, tough and fragile, sensitive
and cruel…) . Huddled at recess we hear children questioning whether one of
their teachers — Gaston, they call
him — can even read, while Simon mimics Lazhar’s dictations as he walks home
with his friend Alice. The children in Monsieur
Lazhar are not speaking words an adult has artificially placed in their
mouths: With only an exception or two we are given real children’s voices.
own history. You must share [who you
are] with your kids, one colleague
tells Lazhar, probably rightly. Who Lazhar is helps him approach the children in the way he does, but he does not see merit in self-revelation. As the viewer learns
more about him, he or she gets a sense, I think, that Lazhar is perhaps best
able to help the children with their grief.
last scene — ends beautifully, and the theme of the chrysalis runs throughout Monsieur Lazhar, but given the final
scene’s relationship with what motivated the opening scene, and given the
relationship between how the image of the chrysalis interacts not only in
Monsieur Lazhar’s classroom but also in his own personal history, perhaps I
will simply strongly recommend Monsieur Lazhar for your own viewing. It`s a film I very much anticipated and now, having seen it twice, very much admire.