Just as Nicolas Philibert’s To Be and To Have observed the delicate relationship between students and teacher in a French country school, Monsieur Lazhar does something similar in a Montreal classroom. The drama is more obvious, but the care and sensitivity required of the teacher is no different. Monsieur Lazhar (Algerian actor Fellag) takes over a class of youngsters grieving over the death of their teacher.
He has his own secrets, and ways of teaching that are greeted, up to a point, with amused tolerance. But it’s the oblique, almost chance way he compassionately helps the class express their grief, and the healing he and they undergo, that director Falardeau is most interested in. That he’s based it on a one-man play implies a major feat of adaptation, and in this he’s supported admirably by the very natural and specific performances of his French-Canadian cast. In particular, Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron are astounding as two friends manifesting strong and different responses to the situation. Understated, even-paced with minimal narrative drive, but like Philibert’s, it’s a film whose quiet shift at the end towards a hopeful future is powerfully felt.
MONSIEUR LAZHAR, directed by Philippe Falardeau
Films are rated out of 5: 1 = abysmal; 5 = amazing