Friday, April 27, 2012

Review of MONSIEUR LAZHAR (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for for mature thematic material, a disturbing image and brief language.
- Starring Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse
- Written & Directed by Philippe Falardeau
- Running time: 1hr 34min.

The last nominated Foreign film from the 2011 Academy Awards to finally get a theatrical release, comes from Canada.  It takes place at a public school in Montreal when one of the teachers commits suicide during work hours.  An Algerian immigrant named Lazhar takes the job.  Instead of ignoring the incident, he teaches the kids how to cope with their grief for the loss of their teacher.  But the new teacher has some secrets of his own.

This is a nice, honest, endearing, and intimate little film.  The opening scene, in which one of the students discovers the dead teacher hanging from the ceiling, is an eye opener.  It's done with one unbroken, handheld take that is very jarring and effective.  A great way to open the film.  Once Lashar begins teaching the kids, he finds himself connected with two of  the students, Marie and Simon.  They both used to be friends but have grown apart due to the tragedy.  As the film goes on, Lazhar's unconventional teaching methods help the students but concern the faculty.  He constantly butts heads with the Principal, but it's subtle.  It's not overdone.

In fact, nothing is really overdone here, which is an occasional weakness.  Lazhar begins a relationship with a fellow teacher, but it never fully develops.  Also, I wish there was more of a resolution to the story of Marie and Simon.  But nitpicking aside, I found this to be a very touching movie.  It even gave me a few lumps in my throat.  Much of the credit goes to Mohamed Fellag as the title character.  He's give his role a stern frame of mind and a warm heart.  He has a very welcoming personality, which won me over.

This is a good movie about teaching, but more importantly, a good movie about the loss of a loved one and how to cope with death.  I thought this was better than the decent, but overrated A SEPARATION (which won the Oscar).  Check it out in theaters this weekend!

*** (out of ****)

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