Academy Award nominated MONSIEUR LAZHAR begins with a tragedy. Simon, a 6th grader, is delivering milk to his classroom before the start of class when he discovers the body of his teacher hanging from the rafters. The teachers do all they can to minimize the shock and trauma for the students, hiring a grief councilor, removing old decorations, repainting, and giving the kids a few days off to cope, but in order to move on, they need a new teacher to give them a fresh start.
It is with the introduction of Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian immigrant who takes on the task of being the replacement teacher for the grief-stricken class, that MONSIEUR LAZHAR begins its metamorphosis from a tale of tragedy, to one of hope. Unable to return home because of threats of violence, but unsure of his position in Canada, Bachir Lazhar is uniquely able to identify with the unrest his students are going through. However, the problems they face are not solvable by a single stirring speech or a good book. The process of moving on is a lot of work and begins with recognizing the moments of joy that are sprinkled throughout the film.
More than a film about a singular inspirational teacher, MONSIEUR LAZHAR is about a classroom that is full of individuals (who happen to be children) who cope with trauma in different ways, but need each other to get through it. The tragedy of their teachers’ suicide causes the adults in the film to recognize the humanity of the children who are as complicated as they are and more mature than they seem. Some of the kids, like Marie, desire structure and a return to normalcy and deeply resent any mention of the past trauma. Then there are those like Alice, the only other child to catch a glimpse of their dead teacher, who cannot move on until they fully understand what happened that would make someone decide to take their own life. Though each child is different, they are not alone and with the guidance of their new teacher and friend, they can get to a place where they can be happy again.
Simple, but not simplistic, MONSIEUR LAZHAR is a gem of a film that is enjoyable, introspective, and uplifting. It’s a must-see for those who take pleasure in cinema that examines the bitter-sweet complexities of real life.