Dir: Falardeau; 2011
By: Adriana Floridia
Rarely does a film overwhelm me with emotion, to the point where it ends and I just don’t even know how to feel. I want to cry. I want to think. I want to reevaluate everything that has just happened. I don’t want to leave. I feel almost stunned, and wondering how can a movie affect my state of being so much. How can I walk into this theatre so consumed in my own life, and then watch a film and have something about me change, even if it’s just for that moment. Even if just for a little while.
Tonight, I saw Monsieur Lazhar and what I felt was so unexpected. I love it when a film affects me in such a profound way. It ended, and I just had to sit there and take everything in. The urge to cry was strong, and the film took a while to settle with me. I didn’t want it to be over. I didn’t want it to end when it did. It ended perfectly, but I did not want to say goodbye to these characters and their story. I don’t want you to think that this is a depressing film; it’s not by any means. It moved me in such a way that I haven’t even quite figured it out yet, but it definitely struck a chord with me.
Bachir Lazhar is not your ordinary substitute teacher. An elementary class in Montreal has just experienced a horrible ordeal; their teacher committed suicide. In need for a replacement teacher, the Principal hires Bachir, a man who is informed about the situation and insists that he is capable of the job and of assisting the students during this difficult time. The students in the class all have different reactions to their teacher’s death. Some children are unaffected while others have nightmares about her. Bachir’s approach to teaching is different than what these kids are used to, and while at first they are difficult with him, a strong bond grows between Monsieur Lazhar and his students. He is there for them when they need him. He is a rock to them during a time where they are lost and confused.
Contrary to this, Bachir has a secretive past that contains his own tragedy. He is a closed off man who is able to act like nothing is wrong, meanwhile he is dealing with his own loss and sorrow, things he can not discuss with anyone due to circumstances that would jeopardize his job at the school. Paralleling what his students are going through in losing their teacher, and possibly even channeling his own despair into their classroom discussions, Monsieur Lazhar encourages in his students what he himself cannot do. He encourages his students to express their emotions and to understand the death of their teacher, to talk openly about how they feel and what they are going through; creating a sense of understanding of what it means to grieve.
The story while serious in nature is handled completely realistically. There is nothing melodramatic, nor is it too understated. The way the story unfolds and the way the children understand what has happened feels very natural. The children actors in the movie are sensational. Some characters are more prominent than others, but each student really establishes a character and they all feel like real people, not caricatures or stereotypes.
I do want to single out Sophie Nelisse who plays Alice and Emilien Neron who plays Simon, the two most prominent children in the film. These two actors are so talented, and I hope they get the opportunity to make more films, because their performances are part of what made this movie feel so authentic and so easy to relate to. Alice is the extremely smart and mature student, who has a real connection with Monsieur Lazhar and a profound understanding of her teacher Martine’s suicide. Simon is a conflicted child who acts out and does not know how to control himself, for reasons that we come to realize in a climatic scene that he nails so perfectly and that brought me to tears. These child actors just blew me away. The real star of the film though is Mohamed Fellag, whose understated performance showed how much he internalized the character of Monsieur Lazhar. He is the center of the film, and commands such attention from the audience, and from his students who although are not used to his stricter and more traditional approach, can’t help but love him as a teacher.
The film never feels long or boring. It has many serious, contemplative moments but always counters them with some very poignant comic relief. There is a wonderful tone to this film and it really takes the audience along for the ride.
I felt overwhelmed with emotions because this is a film that just makes you feel so many different things. At times it made me feel so happy and at other times so sad, and it also really made me reminiscent of what it was like to be a kid. It made me flashback to my own elementary school experience in the smallest of actions the students made; something as simple as going to grab a dictionary off of the shelf. But more than that, it reminds you what it’s like to be vulnerable and confused, and unaware of how big and complicated the world is. Suicide is not something young children should have to deal with in any form, and seeing these children have to confront it head on made me think about how all of these huge things that happen in life felt to me when I was younger and not really able to comprehend it all, or not being able to understand why.
That’s always the grand question; why do people do the horrible things they do. And then you start to think about what role you played in it. You wonder if you’ve done something wrong. You blame yourself. When really, there isn’t always an answer to things. Some things happen and it’s out of your control. You can struggle with things, and make it difficult for yourself. Or you can accept them and move on. Monsieur Lazhar brings this to the forefront, the way we cope with the tragedies we encounter; it’s an answer that is different for everyone.
I love a lot of movies, but not every movie affects me in a really rare way that Monsieur Lazhar achieved for me. I don’t know if everyone will feel the same way, but there is something special about this film that made me feel something that is a difficult place to hit. When my views are altered, when I feel something different in myself or am able to really think about life and be taken out of my own context for a while; that’s when a film has achieved the ultimate accomplishment. Monsieur Lazhar is on that level, and I hope that everyone who sees it can get something that strong out of it too.