MONSIEUR LAZHAR directed by Philippe Falardeau (Canada, 2011)

An elementary school in Montreal is concerned not to make a drama out of a crisis when a young female teacher hangs herself in the classroom.

A lone psychologist is appointed with the aim is to draw a line under the incident as quickly as possible and move on.

The dead teacher’s place is taken by an Algerian refugee, Bashir Lazhar, who applies for the job after reading the story in the newspaper and is appointed as the sole candidate.

It transpires that Lazhar is also attempting to come to terms with a private tragedy and seeking political asylum to try to build a new life.

Lazhar is conscientious but he’s no ‘seize the day’ teacher. He feels inadequate by the side of an experienced colleague whose class is much livelier and more spontaneous.

This teacher, who is obviously attracted to Lazhar, can’t understand why he doesn’t introduce his ‘exotic’ African culture into his classroom.

You feel that Lazhar is desperate to talk about his own loss but ,even with her, his pain is too raw and recent to put into words.

When he goes against the school’s protocol and gets the children to speak about the suicide of their much-loved teacher, it is as he is trying to learn about their feelings as a way of facing his own grief.

Mohamed Fellag is fantastic in the role of Lazhar, maintaining an understated dignity throughout yet leaving you in no doubt that he is a man who is in a fragile emotional state.

The director, Philippe Falardeau, subtly draws out the parallels between this man’s outsider status and the children’s disorientation. The fact that he never stoops to sentimentality is no mean achievement when a group young actors are so central to the plot.

Any sudden death causes sadness and this can also be accompanied by anger and even guilt. This humane, compassionate movie shows that healing is a slow, painful process and that adults are often no better equipped than children when it comes to understanding the range of confusing and conflicting emotions that are stirred up.

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