Monsieur Lazhar Reviews
A small scale, humane and poignant film. The film opens with kids in a school yard in their morning break and one 12 year old boy rushes to his class to distribute the morning milk cartons. But as he glances through the glass door to his classroom, he sees his woman teacher hanging from the ceiling. She has committed suicide. Of course he rushes to get help and the story develops about the effect this will have on staff and teachers. In particular a new class teacher has to be recruited as soon as possible. Mr Lazhar hears about the post and turns up at the headteachers' office with CV in hand and declaring that he has taught in Algeria for 19 years - which is a lie, as it was his wife who was a teacher.
He makes an impression and soon he is teaching the class. He is a humane, caring man who has undergone a horrible family tragedy back in Algeria and is in fact a refugee escaping from political persecution, and we see his interview with the Canadian authorities to gain asylum seeker status. This allows his tragic past to be re-told and we appreciate his humanity and decency in spite of this.
The film offers the chance to highlight some common issues that teachers have these days. The first thing that Mr Lazhar does is to place all the desks back into traditional straight lines instead of the trendy, inclusive 'group' semi-circle. Then he uses an old-fashioned book by Balzac to dictate - the kids are not impressed having to learn 'pre-historic French'. Clearly he is teaching like they did twenty or thirty years ago. He insists that a school class is about life, friendships, respect and learning. When a kid throws a paper, he quickly taps the back of his head and chastises him - this is a big no-no now, but it does work and the class is unbelievably well behaved. In another incident in the staff room, the PE teacher bemoans the fact that he can no longer even touch the kids "How do I teach a kid to use the pummel horse without touching! So I just get them to run in circles and blow my whistle - I'm bored and they are bored, but kids are like radioactive waste, you touch them and you are burned for life!'
The kids are clearly upset about the suicide and the school bring in a psychologist to discuss it with them. But what they really want is to either forget it "It's the grown-ups who are traumatised, not us" or one or two simply want a hug and be told it's not their fault. And Mr Lazhar does this - he reassures a hurt boy and hugs when it's appropriate. Again, he would have been sacked should this have been revealed to the politically correct management. It's apparent that even the senior staff don't like this hands-off, don't-upset-the- kids-ever, attitude. But they are as trapped as anyone else in the system - if they fail to act they too will be sacked.
The message of the film is that we should treat kids for what they are - kids, not a fully developed mini-sized adult. They want structure, discipline, understanding and respect, the political correctness now prevalent is actively preventing this.