Monsieur Lazhar Directed by: Philippe Falardeau Cast: Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse Running Time: 1 hr 35 min Rating: PG-13 Showtimes at PIFF: Saturday 2/11 3:00 at Lake Twin Cinema, Monday 2/13 6:15 at Lloyd Mall 6 and Wednesday 2/15 8:45 at Pioneer Place 5 Complete PIFF Schedule
PLOT: After a elementary school teacher hangs herself in her classroom, a refugee from Algeria suffering his own loss takes over the classroom.
WHO'S IT FOR? Adults and older children. The subject matter is dark but mature kids will probably still enjoy it.
Canada's nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Monsieur Lazhar takes place in Montreal and starts with an arresting opening scene. A child brings a crate of milk cartons to his classroom. He stops when he sees his teacher hanging from the rafters. The film most closely follows this boy, Simon, and his friend, Alice (Nélisse) who also saw the teacher before staff could intervene. Their grief mirrors that of Bachir Lazhar (Fellag), an Algerian refugee who lies his way into the job of substitute teacher after reading the story in a newspaper. His attempts to teach in a modern Canadian school (the other teachers seems surprised that he lines up the desks in straight rows and wants to teach Balzac) aren't always perfect. But what he's really trying to do is connect with the kids in their grief. He also had a loss, he's applying for permanent residence after a bomb killed his whole family back in Algeria. I admit that I was expecting something more treacly and touchy-feely, but I was pleased I was wrong.
Fellag does an excellent job as Lazhar, but really it's the kids who steal the show. Especially Nélisse's Alice, who seems wise behind her years. Her scenes with Fellag form the emotional center of the film.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10