DVD Review: Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar DVDSTUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Philippe Falardeau | CAST: Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron, Danielle Proulx, Brigitte Poupart
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 8/28/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $38.94
BONUSES: From Stage to Screen, Big Talk Interview with Philippe Falardeau, Alice and Simon Audition Tapes, Bachir’s Story, Alice’s Report
SPECS: NR | 94 min. | Foreign language drama comedy | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

A 2012 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, French-Canadian filmmaker Phillipe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar is a charming and sweetly affecting serio-comedy set among the over-regulated and hyper-protected students of a Montreal middle school. They live in the kind of upper middle class environment where a teacher can’t give aspirin to a student with a migraine and a boy gets second degree burns on his back at summer camp because a counselor isn’t permitted to apply sunscreen. Those are the rules!

Monsieur Lazhar movie scene

Fellag goes to school in Monsieur Lazhar.

Violence and chaos does, however, intrude on their lives when a popular teacher is discovered hanging in her classroom one morning by a student assigned with bringing milk for the whole class. The traumatized pupils then undergo the expected “grief counseling,” but the principal has difficulty replacing the teacher. An Algerian immigrant, Bachir Lazhar (Fellag), who carries some damage of his own, presents himself for the job and is hired.

Lazhar’s problems are a plot point with obvious holes, but worth getting past to experience the genuinely moving rapprochement between students and teacher as Lazhar helps the children find emotional healing and free their heavily regimented spirits. And he, in turn, gains a sense of community in his new country.

Falardeau avoids sentimentality by shooting in cool documentarian style with a fine sense of detail. What truly elevates the film are the performances. Fellag brings understated dignity to the lead and all the teachers avoid clichés as they negotiate between a sense of commitment to their profession and all the newly created rules. The students, especially Émilien Néron as the guilt-ridden milk carrier, are a superb and unaffected ensemble.

Most satisfyingly, Monsieur Lazhar quotes Balzac and La Fontaine without apology!

Among the bonus features is an extended interview with director Falardeau, who talks about how he was interested in the idea of both the students and their teacher—the young and the old—confronting traumatic events. He also offers how as a director, he must avoid the temptation to go for the most dramatic visualization when the material demands that the most pertinent approach be taken.

 

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About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.