Author Topic: "M. Lazhar": If "Dead Poets Society" were French-Canadian, and a Lot Less Sappy  (Read 2405 times)

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2012/04/monsieur_lazhar_reviewed_.html


Monsieur Lazhar
If Dead Poets Society were French-Canadian,
and a lot less sappy


By Dana Stevens
Posted Friday, April 13, 2012, at 6:39 PM ET





Monsieur Lazhar (Music Box Films) , the French-Canadian film that was a nominee for this year’s foreign-language Oscar, belongs to an uncommon tradition of movies about students and teachers. It’s not an uplifting ode to the transformative power of pedagogy, in the mode of Stand and Deliver ; rather, like 2008’s The Class,  it’s a quiet, sometimes achingly painful meditation on both the possibilities and the limits of the teacher-student relationship. The title character, an Algerian immigrant who steps in to teach a class of Montreal sixth-graders after their teacher commits suicide, is no inspirational firebrand but a courtly, soft-spoken man who has trouble adjusting his traditional values to the needs and expectations of 21st-century kids. Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, identified in the credits as simply Fellag) wants his students to transcribe from a Balzac novel, when Jack London is more their speed; when a student acts disrespectful, he casually cuffs him on the side of the head.

In short order, the school’s devoted but worn-down principal (Danielle Proulx) brings Bachir up to speed on the customs of 21st-century education: There will be no touching the children under any circumstances, not even to give an encouraging hug. And all mention of Martine, the dead teacher, must be avoided, except during periodic visits from the officiously soothing school psychologist.
 
Of course, the children’s grief and confusion can’t be managed as neatly as all that, and Bachir’s class remains haunted by the memory of Martine, who, in a chilling opening scene, is found hanging in the classroom one morning by an already-troubled boy named. Simon and another student, Alice, who also caught a glimpse of the body on that day, can’t stop bringing up Martine’s death in class. Alice’s oral presentation about school pride drifts into a lament for her beloved teacher, and Simon secretly carries a photo of Martine around with him. In the second half of the film, it’s revealed that Mr. Lazhar is mourning his own losses, in a less public but no less painful way.

Though its story may sound formulaic on paper, please take my word for it: Monsieur Lazhar,  written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, is a sharply intelligent, deeply sad, and not remotely sappy film about both teaching and collective grief. Its surface may be still and quiet, with cool colors, wintry landscapes, and a delicate piano score, but the emotions beneath run tumultuous and deep. Fellag, an Algerian comedian and humor writer, anchors the film as the ineffable Bachir, a man who’s so private that even the third-act revelation of his back story doesn’t fully explain his motivations to us (nor would we want it to). The children who play Alice and Simon, Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, are exceptional in their scenes with him, and even better when they’re alone together. With almost no words exchanged, we understand how these two are bound by the shared sight of their teacher’s suspended corpse that awful morning. Monsieur Lazhar —the character as well as the movie—offers no simple answers to the hard questions Martine’s death poses: Why did this beloved young teacher kill herself where she knew her students would find her? Will Simon and Alice be permanently traumatized by what they saw? What can their teacher, or anyone, do to help them move on?

Though it’s no Dead Poets Society  by a long shot, Monsieur Lazhar  does ultimately affirm, in its oblique, understated way, the sacredness of the teacher-student relationship. For an old-fashioned, at times rigid teacher like Bachir, the classroom is a place where order and formality must rule, not for their own sake but as a bulwark against the often incomprehensible chaos and violence of the world outside. 


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(and you know who I am...)


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and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
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Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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[youtube=425,350]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjNCkxnT-xE[/youtube]
Uploaded by microscopefilms on Oct 17, 2011

Writer and director: Philippe Falardeau
Based on the play Bashir Lazhar  by Evelyne De la Chenelière

Producers: Luc Déry et Kim McCraw
Line producer: Claude Paiement
Director of photography: Ronald Plante
Production designer: Emanuel Fréchette
Costume designer: Francesca Chamberland
Editor: Stéphane Lafleur
Sound: Pierre Bertrand, Sylvain Bellemare
Original score: Martin Léon

Actors: Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron, Danielle Proulx, Brigitte Poupart


"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)


Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/movies/monsieur-lazhar-oscar-nominee-from-philippe-falardeau.html?partner=rss&emc=rss




Movie Review
When the Best Teacher
Doesn’t Have a Degree

‘Monsieur Lazhar,’ Oscar Nominee From Philippe Falardeau

By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: April 12, 2012



Émilien Néron and Sophie Nélisse, who play middle school students dealing with a teacher’s
suicide in the Canadian film “Monsieur Lazhar.”




Fellag, star of "Monsieur Lazhar."



In the indelible opening scene of Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar,” Simon (Émilien Néron), a sixth grader at a Montreal middle school, catches a glimpse of the body of Martine, a popular teacher who has hanged herself from a pipe inside a classroom. He turns and runs.

We don’t see him report the fatality. The camera remains stationary, in a kind of daze, until several teachers dash into the building and frantically herd children returning from recess back outside. Simon’s friend Alice (Sophie Nélisse) detaches herself just long enough to steal a peek through a crack in the door before being shooed away. We never see the victim’s face.

The subtlety and discretion with which the revelation is handled says much about “Monsieur Lazhar,” Mr. Falardeau’s fourth feature film, adapted from a one-person play by Evelyne de la Chenelière. The film, which was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, picked up six Genies (Canadian Oscars), including best picture, director, adapted screenplay and actor. The title character is powerfully embodied by Fellag, an Algerian theater director and actor known for his one-man shows, who has lived in Paris since 1995.

“Monsieur Lazhar” sustains an exquisite balance between grown-up and child’s-eye views of education, teacher-student relations and peer-group interactions. The students come quirkily alive in superb naturalistic performances devoid of cuteness and stereotyping. Like no other film about middle school life that I can recall “Monsieur Lazhar” conveys the intensity and the fragility of these classroom bonds and the mutual trust they require.

Although it looks askance at the extreme measures parents and teachers take to protect children, often more knowledgeable and resilient than they’re given credit for, it acknowledges that some do need protection. It especially calls into question the strict modern rules that forbid any physical contact between teachers and students who in moments of crisis feel a desperate need for the comfort and reassurance that a hug can provide.

Amid the tempest stands the title character, Bachir Lazhar, a 55-year-old Algerian immigrant in need of a job who read about the suicide and presents himself to the stiff-backed principal (Danielle Proulx) as a substitute. Bachir, who says he taught grade school in Algiers for 19 years before settling in Quebec, seems to be a godsend. Polite, formal and soft-spoken, he takes over a class whose students are traumatized to varying degrees and easily wins their confidence and affection.

He is sternly instructed not to bring up the suicide and told that a psychologist will deal with the children’s reactions. During those sessions he is not allowed in the classroom. Bachir proves himself a caring, dedicated teacher, although there are some glitches. A dictation from Balzac is too difficult for his students. There are differences between Québécois and Algerian French. Most important, he doesn’t know the rules about physical contact and lightly cuffs an unruly student.

He teaches the fables of La Fontaine, and in an inspired stroke invites the students to invent their own. In the film’s most moving scene he regales them with one he invented about a chrysalis and a tree that addresses both Martine]’s suicide and his own recent personal calamity, which he is barely able to talk about. Bachir isn’t exactly what he claims. In Algeria he was a civil servant who later owned a restaurant but has never taught. Nor is he, as he has stated, a permanent resident of Quebec. He is applying for political asylum following the horrific murder of his wife, a teacher, and their two children in a fire deliberately set the night before they were to have left Algeria to join him in Canada. The Lazhar family had been subjected to repeated death threats since the publication of his wife’s book criticizing the government’s reconciliation policy after the country’s civil war.

Without pushing the parallels, the story obliquely connects Bachir’s story with his empathy for the children, especially his intuition that Simon’s distress is more complex and deeply rooted than it at first appears. When the truth is finally revealed in a flood of tears, the boy’s heart-rending confession reminds you of how easily children can torture themselves with guilt for imagined sins.

Bachir cannot follow the rules. When the class needs his emotional support, he delivers a healing, common-sense speech about the suicide to the students who take it in stride. You applaud him for his bravery and tact.

“Don’t try to find a meaning in Martine’s death; there isn’t one,” this flawed hero declares. “A classroom is a place of friendship, of work, of courtesy, a place of life.”

“Monsieur Lazhar” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). A little strong language.


Monsieur Lazhar

Opens on Friday in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, based on the stage play by Evelyne de la Chenelière; director of photography, Ronald Plante; edited by Stéphane Lafleur; music by Martin Léon; production design by Emmanuel Fréchette; costumes by Francesca Chamberland; produced by Luc Déry and Kim McCraw; released by Music Box Films. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes.

WITH: Fellag (Bachir Lazhar), Sophie Nélisse (Alice), Émilien Néron (Simon), Danielle Proulx (Mrs. Vaillancourt), Brigitte Poupart (Claire), Louis Champagne (Janitor), Jules Philip (Gaston), Francine Ruel (Mrs. Dumas) and Sophie Sanscartier (Audrée).

"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)


Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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FILM REVIEW
'Monsieur Lazhar'
Tale of teacher is a study in compassion
by Joe Morgenstern
[email protected]
April 12, 2012, 4:32 p.m. ET


Marie-Eve Beauregard and Mohamed Fellag in 'Monsieur Lazhar.'


Speechifying can be a bore, but the substitute teacher at the center of this French-Canadian film by Philipe Falardeau has assigned each of his sixth graders to make a speech, and one of them leaves the class literally speechless. The student who delivers it, Alice, is played to perfection by Sophie Nélisse, who had not acted before. What makes Alice's speech astonishing is that it slices through the cone of silence surrounding the death of the kids' much-loved teacher, who hanged herself in their classroom. What makes the film enthralling is the wisdom and grace with which it addresses the twin subjects of grief and healing, and the quiet beauty of Mohamed Fellag's performance in the title role.

Mr. Fellag, billed in the credits only by his last name, has been celebrated in his native Algeria, and in France, not for quietude but for his comic chops. This speaks well for a grounding in comedy, since his portrayal of Bachir Lazhar is both sophisticated and soulful—an appealing combination. Lazhar has come to Canada as an immigrant seeking asylum from Algeria's lethal turbulence, but he says nothing about that, or anything else in his personal life, when he applies for a teaching job at a Montreal school. And he knows nothing about his predecessor's fate when he first confronts her class. Unwittingly, though, he brings the sort of humanity that will help the bewildered kids, and they're the perfect balm for his hidden wounds.

"Monsieur Lazhar," in subtitled French, was an Oscar nominee this year for best foreign language film. The plot rests on a few somewhat arbitrary notions, but the drama's greatest strength lies in its specificity. Far from dispensing glib uplift, Lazhar stresses classroom discipline, teaches the value of respect and pushes forcefully, sometimes clumsily, against an overprotective culture so benighted in the name of enlightenment that such subjects as death and violence have been stricken from the curriculum. He's forbidden from circulating the text of Alice's wonderful speech, and he's reminded, in what amounts to a reprimand, that there's zero tolerance for touching students, whether in the course of corporal punishment—he has, in fact, given an obstreperous kid named Simon a little whack on the back of his head—or a heartfelt hug. (The issue of hugging turns out to be more fraught than Lazhar could have imagined.)

Classroom dramas will always be with us because classrooms are an endlessly renewable source of energy that needs to be reined in, and feelings that need to be brought out. The feelings in this one run deep, especially in the case of Simon, who is vividly portrayed by Émilien Néron, and whose obstreperousness conceals a tortured soul. It's tempting to say that the filmmaker, Mr. Falardeau, is in a class by himself when it comes to directing kids, but that's not true. He's in a class with the François Truffaut of "The 400 Blows," or the Claude Jutra of "My Uncle Antoine." In his film, as in theirs, kids will be nothing more or less than kids when the camera rolls.


"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)


Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"