From TIFF darling Philippe Falardeau (La Moitié gauche du frigo, Congorama, C'est pas moi, je le jure!) and the producers of last year's smash-hit Incendies comes Monsieur Lazhar, one of the most gripping québécois films of the last decade. Expanded from a one-character play by Evelyne de la Chenelière's, set in a Montreal elementary school, this beautifully crafted character study speaks of loss and death, innocence and guilt, imposture and honesty, in an eloquent and complex, yet simple and fluid manner.
directed by Philippe Falardeau, Québec, 2011, 1h30
PROGRAMMER'S NOTE (TIFF 2011)
From Festival favorite Philippe Falardeau and the producers of last year's Academy Award®-nominated Incendies comes Monsieur Lazhar, one of the most gripping Québécois films of the last decade. Expanded from a one-character play by Evelyne de la Chenelière, this complex character study speaks of loss, innocence and imposture in an eloquent yet simple manner.
Bachir Lazhar is a middle-aged Algerian immigrant seeking political refuge in Quebec. Bachir jumps at the opportunity to replace a Montreal elementary school teacher who committed suicide one night after class. The school's overworked principal is initially relieved.
The story focuses on Bachir's relationship with two of his pupils: a ten-year-old boy traumatized by discovering the body of his teacher, and a girl whose interpretation of the event and resentment toward her friend provoke unforeseen revelations. To these children in shock, Bachir's traditional teaching methods, in the context of Quebec's endless pedagogical reforms, may well provide the structure they need. Even if, to Bachir's dismay, the work of Balzac remains beyond their reach.
Monsieur Lazhar is further proof of Falardeau's talent for drawing out depth and precision from child actors, as seen in his 2008 film It's Not Me, I Swear! The fine performances in his latest work reflect the authenticity of the characters, and the story illustrates how adult hypocrisy and little white lies about death can turn a child's world upside down when fate strikes.
The screenplay's line of questioning - how should we speak to children about death? - could have led to a very dark and dry film. Monsieur Lazhar is just the opposite: a luminous and tender tale about the lessons we learn from one another, regardless of age. Bachir has much to gain from his pupils, and so do we.
Martin Bilodeau (TIFF 2011, Toronto)
Runtime: 94m minutes
Producers: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
Production Company: micro_scope inc.
Principal Cast: Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Émilien Neron, Danielle Proulx, Brigitte Poupart
Screenplay: Philippe Falardeau
Cinematographer: Ronald Plante
Editor: Stéphane Lafleur
Sound: Pierre Bertrand, Mathieu Beaudin, Sylvain Bellemare, Bernard Gariepy Strobl
Music: Martin Leon
Production Designer: Emmanuel Fréchette
Canadian Distributor: Entertainment One
International Sales Agent: Films Distribution