Published Jan 26, 2012What's interesting about Philippe Falardeau's Oscar-nominated drama, Monsieur Lazhar, is that despite being an organized cinematic forum for debate, tackling the subject of violence from a variety of angles, it never preaches or edifies, coming off as a cohesive narrative unto itself.
The perspective that emerges on the central issue is more of observed discord and analysis than sanctimony and hippie-dippy ideals, making this low-key French-Canadian parable a remarkable accomplishment of calculated reservation and heartfelt concern.
To expand, these notions of violence – how it's defined, handled, resolved and communicated to children – stem from the suicide of a grade school teacher. Having hanged herself in the classroom knowing full well that Simon (Émilien Néron), one of her students, would find her, the children assume it was an act of aggression, seeing as he had proved problematic for her throughout the year.
But rather being the defining topic of the film, this is merely a catalyst, as it takes Algerian immigrant Bachir (Mohamed Fellag) to pull this information out of the gifted, but tormented Alice (Sophie Nélisse) after he takes over the classroom. He similarly has a history of violence, having lost family members back in Algeria, which gives him a perspective on the subject distinct from his fellow teachers, each of whom are terrified to even hug a crying child, lest it be perceived as a sexual act of, again, violence.
Since each character emerges at their own pace, believably revealing themselves to those around them without undue contrivance or forced sequences of exposition, these didactics prove fluid and engaging rather than off-putting. Falardeau finds a natural grace and ease with his child actors and their relation to the adults, who are equally avoidant and confused by how to cope with unseemly subjects like suicide.
Because of this, it's easy to become invested in the outcome of these characters as they tiptoe around each other afraid to say or do anything that might be deemed inappropriate. It's as though all of the repressed emotions throughout the film are compounded into a desperate need for an outpouring of sincere, externalized compassion that may or may not come, which, as it stands, is part of the power of this memorable and thoughtful work. (eOne)