Last month, Toronto film critics named Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar as their best Canadian film of 2011. The Quebec film, which is Canada’s contender for the best foreign language film at this year’s Academy Awards, beat out another French-language film, Jean Marc Vallee’s Cafe de flore, and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, for top honors at the Toronto Film Critics Association kudosfest in Toronto. Monsieur Lazhar, which is from the producers of Incendies (last year’s audience favorite at PIFF34) has also earned the best Canadian feature film prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Monsieur Lazhar is Falardeau’s fourth feature length film, and not to be missed. Set in Montreal, it begins with the suicide of a female elementary school teacher. Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, is quickly hired to replace her while he is experiencing a personal tragedy of his own. His wife, who was a writer, died in a criminal arson attack with her daughter and son, a fire caused by targets (along with their associates) of the last book she wrote dealing with the social and economic shortcomings in present-day Algeria, from which comes the phrase eloquently said by Bachir: “Nothing is ever really normal in Algeria.” He gets to know his students despite the cultural gap that is evident from the very first lesson. As the class tries to move on from their former teacher’s suicide, nobody at the school is aware of Bachir’s painful past, who could be deported at any time given his status as a refugee.
PIFF35 brings Monsieur Lazhar on Saturday Feb 11 at 3 PM (Lake Twin Cinema), Monday Feb 13 at 6:15 PM (Lloyd Mall 6), and Wednesday Feb 15 at 8:45 PM (Pioneer Place 5).