PIFF Recommendation: ‘Monsieur Lazhar’

Written by Nick Bruno. This review has been re-published from the blog The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown.

Philippe Faladeau’s Monsieur Lazhar travels well-trodden cinematic ground; it’s easily filed into the inspirational teacher genre, of which there are already some fairly successful models out there (To Sir, with Love and Stand and Deliver come to mind).  So it’s nice to see that what could have been yet another by-the-numbers entry is, in fact, an intelligent and humanistic look at a group of students and the adults mentoring them through the healing process in the wake of a tragic event.

Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) is a man who has recently immigrated to Quebec from his Algerian homeland.  He shows up at the elementary school where most of the action of the film takes place, seeking to replace a teacher who has recently died.  While the circumstances behind Bachir’s move are complicated, they make him the ideal candidate for dealing with a classroom packed full of children who have recently experienced their own loss.

While Fellag is wonderful in the film, exuding both deep sorrow and empathy, often in the same moment, the children’s performances are amazingly nuanced as well.  This is especially true of the work of Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, both of whom fearlessly project a complexity beyond their years.

Monsiuer Lazhar is an excellent film with an emotional core that has the potential to resonate for all ages (however, younger children might have difficulty with the themes or the fact that the film is subtitled).  In many ways, it reminded me of Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor, another film that tackles difficult subject matter in an optimistic fashion without attempting to declaw the more troubling aspects at play.

“Monsiuer Lazhar” screens at the Lloyd Mall 6 today at 6:15 p.m.  Its final screening is  on Wednesday, Feb. 15th at Pioneer Place 5 at 8:45 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets in advance, check out the official PIFF Web site.

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