Saturday, September 8, 2012

Film Review: Monseiur Lazhar

"Monseiur Lazhar" 
*** 1\2 (out of ****)

I first saw this Candian film "Monseiur Lazhar" (2012) in the theatre but was going through so many personal problems I simply couldn't give the movie my full attention. My grandfather had recently passed away and I was unaware this film dealt with death. I sat in the theatre with a woman I had an on again-off again relationship with and our situation was lingering on my mind. Poor "Monsieur Lazhar" didn't stand a chance competing with these personal ordeals I was going through.

However I could tell there was something about the film that I would need to come back to it at a later time. Now that the film was been released on DVD I decided to give it a second chance. I'm glad I did.

"Monseiur Lazhar" is a film which I believe nicely fits in with the themes movies of 2012 have been dealing with. Here is a film which essentially shows us a world of chaos and characters trying to make sense of their surroundings. So many films released this year have confronted this theme.

But this is a "quiet" film. A very subtle film. Its emotions are not front and center. These are characters who don't allow their hurt to show. They are more reserved and thus everything is sub-due. I was bothered by this the first I saw this movie. In my mind I kept comparing it to the French film "The Class" (2009), another movie about a teacher's influence on his classroom. I was very taken by the simplicity of that story. So much so that I placed it on my top ten list of that year. Walking into "Monseiur Lazhar" a second time I knew what to expect and just accepted it.

But one can make the argument that "Monsieur Lazhar" takes on more, it is a more ambitious film. And I can't argue with that sentiment. Here is a movie about culture clash, death, the past, the grief process and that saddest of all things, saying good-bye. Losing the people who matter to us. People who have made an impact on our lives, whether it is a spouse, a teacher or a friend.

Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) is an Algerian who has arrived in Montreal. He is seeking political asylum, for circumstances we find out later in the movie. He has recently learned of an incident in which a teacher, Martine Lachance (Helena Laliberte), has committed suicide in her classroom, before the start of the school day. Grief has consumed the school as both the teachers and the students are trying to cope with the situation. Lazhar has come to apply for the open position.

We learn that Lazhar has lost his wife and children, whom he believes, were murdered for political reasons. He has decided not to tell anyone at the school of his situation. He deals with his grief in private which is contrasted with the "open grief" displayed at the school.

The best moments in the movie are ones in which we see the characters in private, in those moments when they can reveal their true feelings. One moment has Lazhar having dinner with a colleague, Claire (Brigitte Poupart). He has not told her what has happened to his family. She asks questions about his life which makes him uncomfortable, since he wants to hide the truth. In the following scene Lazhar leaves her apartment and in the stairwell breaks down. How difficult it is to suffer in private.

Another great moment is the last scene in the movie. Thinking about it I become misty. A teacher embraces a student. The gesture has huge implications and takes on multiple meanings. So much has happened to lead us to this moment.

"Monseiur Lazhar" is one of the best films of the year!