Monsieur Lazhar Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ April 21, 2013
A refugee from Algeria goes to Montreal and takes over for a teacher who killed herself.
A gentle film with an edge, Monsieur Lazhar features strong performances by Mohamed Fellag and his young class. There are many scenes that seem aimless until they're considered in the scope of the larger story.
As a whole, the film is part of the teacher-as-hero genre, and while its anti-intellectualism is confined to the premise that a man with no training can succeed, Monsieur Lazhar is a nurturing love educator, thrown into an emotionally charged classroom with grief-demons of his own. Its thesis -- that there are times when educators are called on to be caring parental figures -- is ludicrous in reality, but I found it effective because of Fellag's soulful performance.
I think the conflict is never fully resolved, which is a common complaint I have with French-language films. I think Lazhar should have had to expose his damage; these kids' emotional lives are on display for Lazhar, and it seemed logical that Lazhar would have to do likewise. The fable bit was an attempt, but the writing on this fable didn't go far enough.
Overall, this is a strong film in a problematic genre.
Super Reviewer
½ March 31, 2013
Nice enough movie, just really slow. Definitely the kind that critics like....
Super Reviewer
½ December 21, 2012
A delicate drama that is both original and heartwarming. For me its the antidote to all the sickly sweet Teacher dramas like Dead Poet Society that I hate even though everyone else seems to love it. It's never over the top or preachy but always makes valued points and raises intelligent questions. The last scene is so powerful and yet so simple, it's a great example of subtle brilliance and perfect film making.
Super Reviewer
August 30, 2012
Although the performances are not so strong, this is a delicate drama that could have been easily made into a maudlin melodrama in the wrong hands, but instead goes for a realistic approach that renders it much more involving, touching and sincere than most films of the kind.
Super Reviewer
½ June 16, 2012
'Monsieur Lazhar'. Gently, but respectfully deals with loss through great all-round performances and poignant writing.
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
½ May 11, 2012
"Monsieur Lazhar," which earlier this year lost the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar to "A Separation", is overall mediocre.

It's what you'd expect from a traditional French-language film: that is, the illusion of depth more than actual depth. French-speaking filmmakers of the bourgeois variety are masters of pretending to be deep. It's amazing the number of people around the world who fall for it. (Witness the Oscar nomination.)

It's not awful by any means. The subject matter has potential. But it's directed in such a flaccid way that the film just sort of lies there.

A man approaching age 60 mysteriously appears in a town in suburban Montreal and applies for a job as a French teacher. He is from Algeria but remains vague about the details. Gradually we learn that he is seeking asylum in Canada and has experienced terrible tragedies in his native country.

Parallels are drawn between his tragedies and those in the charming bourgeois town in which he now lives. I won't reveal all the details, but these parallels are interesting.

The problem is that writer/director Philippe Falardeau, who has not commanded international attention until now, directs in such a warm, fuzzy way that he softens everything to a warm mush. With a tougher director, "Monsieur Lazhar" could have been quite something.

A stand-out weakness on Falardeau's part is his direction of child actors. Much of the story focuses on the children in Mr. Lazhar's suburban class. In almost every scene, the children are directed so poorly that every word out of their mouths sounds fake. Time after time, the children look like 10-year-olds trying to mimic adults. At times it is so bad I thought I might lose my lunch. Nothing is quite so bad as watching child actors ham it up absurdly.
Super Reviewer
May 6, 2012
After François Hollande´s victory in the last French presidential elections, Algerian flags have been seen in the Place de la Bastille. Not really surprising. Thousands of Algerians immigrate to France every year. An old French colony, Algeria is the second largest francophone country in the world. Although not an impressive number, approximately 50,000 people of Algerian origin reside in Canada today. The country is known for welcoming immigration, but you go a bit further and you discover that, differently for what is jokily said, they don´t beg people to live there, unless you fill in certain requirements.

"Monsieur Lazhar" tells not only the story of an Algerian immigrant struggling to get political asylium in Canada, but the story of a multicutural and young country discovering its own identity and, consequently, its own limits and weaknesses. How many immigrants couldn´t repeat Alice´s words?

"My school is beautiful. Maybe not the most beautiful, but it's mine. So...
At first, when I started coming here, my mom kept saying how nice it was.
Personally, I found it ok... But now, six years later, I also think it's really nice. Because it's mine. A big yard to play soccer and basketball, where parents drop their kids off in the morning. They take care of us, check to see if we have lice, how our teeth are, if we're aggressive or hyperactive. But this nice school is where Martine Lachance hanged herself. With her blue scarf from the big pipe on a Wednesday night. (...) Martine must've been discouraged with her life. The last thing she did was kick her chair to make it fall over. Sometimes I wonder if she wasn't sending a violent message."

The anguish of relocation is algo the anguish of the kids having to deal with their teacher´s death. While some people fight for life, others give up without explanation. Here we have the opposition between Martine and Lazhar´s wife, between freedom and opression. Despite the differences, resamblances: their belongings. When Lazhar uses his wife´s stamp on assignments, he is taking Martine along with him.
In the most majority of moves about teachers and students, the new teacher always brings a fresh air. Monsieur Lazhar, on the other hand, brings back the methods and rigor of old times, along, however, with a real passion for kids. Indirectly, the movie questions the modern teaching methods that include a constant parental intervention and that ultimately undermine the teacher-student relationship.

Counting with an amazing leading actor and a great cast - if they made a remake of "My Girl', Sophie Nélisse just had to play Vada, due to her resemblance to that young Anna Chlumsky - "Monsieur Lazhar" perfectly balances fiction and reality, finding the accurate measure of drama required.
Super Reviewer
April 26, 2012
Monsier Lazhar is captivating by presenting an honest account, simple and unadorned. It's a lyrical drama with the rhythms of a play out of the early 1970s. The screenplay is in fact developed from a one-character play by Canadian actress Évelyne de la Chenelière. It's a soft focus presentation of the emotional damage a tragedy has on a group of young students and the methods their teacher utilizes to comfort them. He gives them a lot of credit and treats them accordingly. The script has pointed commentary on how children cope with the death in contrast to their parents and the rest of the faculty at the school. Yet, despite the film's title, the students are the true stars here. There's not one precocious brat amongst the cast. 2 kids in particular give performances of depth and maturity. Actress Sophie Nélisse is the mature beyond her years Alice. Her straightforward, no nonsense personality feels just like a real child. And then there's actor Émilien Néron as Simon who seems to carry to the weight of the world on his shoulders. His feelings of guilt coming to a head in one particularly cathartic scene. These are highlights in a tale that at times can be vague and underdeveloped. This French Canadian nominee for 2012's Best Foreign Language Film is a relatively slight production. There are times the whole affair can be a bit underwhelming, but the subtlety and discretion with which the story unfolds is commendable.
Super Reviewer
February 21, 2012
Monsieur Lazhar is a wonderful French-Canadian film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Oscars. Mohamed Fellag is excellent as Bachir Lazhar. He is human, and very relatable and quietly intelligent and respectable. This film is a wonderfully subtle, humanistic and touching drama that captures the pulse of elementary school life and canadian immigration. The kids here are exquisitely acted as well. Sophie Nelisse and Emilien Neron are really wonderful to watch. It's a quiet, touching drama that sneaks up on you and delivers a powerful emotional punch. Monsieur Lazhar was a pleasant surprise. I highly recommend it.
Super Reviewer
February 20, 2012
Monsieur Lazhar is a affecting and gentle human drama with an exceptional cast about death, immigration, clinical depression and childhood -and still more weighty stuff -yet all the heaviness is told with humor and sensitivity. Director Felardeau has ellicited deep and resonant performances from his entire wonderful cast, including two spectactular children (Emilien Neron and Sophie Nelisse).

Bachir Lazhar (Fellag) is a mysterious Algerian refugee who becomes a subsitute teacher after a Montreal public school teacher hangs herself in her classroom on a school day! The thrust of the plot is his attempt to deal with the grief of the suicidal teacher's students and within the administration of the school itself led by the Principal (the marvellous Danielle Proulx. ) He also has a budding romance with a fellow teacher and fractious relationships with some parents and students.

There is not a false note from any of the cast at any moment. The restraint of the acting druing intense and hightly charged emotions is ultimately much more moving than big melodramatic screeching histrionics. Algerian comedian Felag gives an unforgettable performance as a man who manages to suggest a devastating back story without actually spelling out what it is. So he is uniquely qualified to help the children with their grief.

However, the plot situations themselves are either extremely unlikely (and unbelievable) or not properly explained. Let's start with why a beloved teacher (albeit with mental problems) would hang herself in a school room during a school day. I might buy that if given some detail of what this teacher was all about, but it remains a mystery. Then let's wonder why a responsible principal would hire a guy off the street as a teacher, not check one credential on his CV in a very PC and formalized school system?

The film suffers in its second half (Act 3 for all you budding screenwriters) with some quick leaps to resolve things. We are also cheated out of some relationships that have developed too quickly - for example, the special bond between Lazhar and Alice, one of his students who has helped deal with her grief. This may be because it is based on a short one man play written by Quebec playwright Evelyne De La Cheniere, who appears as Alice's mother, an airline pilot. Some of those leaps in a one act monologue need to be filled in for a full length film and Felardeau has failed to do that. (Or scenes are lying on the cutting room floor - I know there is NO cutting room floor anymore - that I don't know about. )

However, Felardeau has done so many things right, that his film richly deserves its Academy Award nomination. Whatever carping I did the previous paragraph should not deter anyone from wanting to see this wonderful film.
Super Reviewer
February 5, 2012
Beautifully subtle and understated examination of loss and grief, and the painful realization that life can - and must - go on after a tragedy. This is a terribly affecting and sympathetic film, its tone barely ever rising above a whisper, but speaking loudly in all the right places. Peter Howell in the Toronto Star sums it up so well: "As simple as sunlight, yet as difficult as forgiveness."
Super Reviewer
½ January 26, 2014
At school, Simon(Emilien Neron) is assigned to get the milk when he discovers his beloved teacher hanging from the ceiling of her classroom. Even with the teachers trying to keep all the other students away, Alice(Sophie Nelisse) also witnesses the grisly sight. After the classroom is painted and a psychologist is hired, Ms. Vaillancourt(Danielle Proulx) has only one applicant to replace the teacher, Bachir Lazhar(Mohamed Fellag), who has not taught in quite a while.

"Monsieur Lazhar" is a thoughtful and nuanced look at broken lives being put back together again in multicultural Montreal where differences are more based on age than anything else, with Bachir's back story coming out in fits and bursts. As familiar as some of the story elements may be, it is worth noting how in less sensitive hands it could have gone terribly wrong and didn't, even if one of the children seems straight out of central casting.(I think it's a nice touch that Alice's mom is an airline pilot, a traditionally male occupation.) But as well as the movie opens quickly and efficiently in setting up the story, the ending it just as perfunctory.
Super Reviewer
January 18, 2013
Monsieur Lazhar is a brilliant and dramatic piece of filmmaking that takes us into the hearts and minds of people who are all in grief. Mohamed Fellag gives an outstanding performance and should be commended for his great work here. This film makes us review life at its hardest times, and I just fell right under this movies magic.
Super Reviewer
September 14, 2012
What a beautiful, haunting film! I absolutely loved it! The girl who plays Alice was absolutely stunning. What screen presence for someone so young! The extras were quite interesting as well, including a thirty-three minute dialog between the director and the woman who wrote the stage play it was based on (she also played Alice's mother). I thought it was fascinating to see how different the film was from the stage play, and yet told the same story. This is a terrific film that I can heartily recommend. There are so many little sub-plots to this that I think just about anyone ought to be able to find a hook into the story. Oh, and the actor who plays Bashir Lazhar, was superb!
Super Reviewer
January 27, 2012
Falardeau is a master of stories that ooze humanity. The treatment of the story of a refugee teacher assisting students with the death of a former teacher is tremendously touching.
Super Reviewer
April 21, 2012
Canada's film for 2012's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Monsieur Lazhar was a sweet and simple film that told the story of Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian refugee who offered his services as a substitute teacher for an elementary school class that has lost its teacher. The circumstances of the teacher's death, the students reaction to it, and Mr. Lazhar's own back-story combined created a beautiful film. Mohammed Fellag, an Algerian comedian, portrayed Monsieur Lazhar, and was cast with exceptional young actors, led by Sophie Nelisse and Emilien Neron. The performances in this film were unique and gave the subject matter quite an accomplishment. Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, the film did not try to be something more than an observation, which was refreshing. It definitely had a message to say. His attempts to deal with his students' grief, their cultural and educational differences, and his own difficulties and loss all culminate in a final scene of incredible emotion. It was Canada's second nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and although this one did not win, (since Iran's Separation was too strong) this film deserved an honour to be seen.
Super Reviewer
October 31, 2011
A very touching film about the relation between a new teacher and his young students who are struggling the lost of their late teacher.
January 18, 2014
It teaches us not to sugar-coat losses or create melodramatic contents spuriously. The solid intelligence and emotion is what makes this somber and excellent film. One would always wish to have teachers like these people.
½ November 3, 2012
An emotional "Waiting for Superman" told with a "Welcome" slant. The child actors are simply superb, but Fellag plays his old-school (otherworldly) educator role to a tee, with his balanced emphasis on education, encouragement and professionalism (despite being an unaccredited refugee)
May 28, 2012
Incredibly well-done story that is careful not to retread tired teacher-student movies of old. Performances by leads Fellag and Sophie Nelisse bring this powerful tale to fruition.
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