Today was a pretty awesome day at the festival. I saw 2 films that were instantly added to my TIFF Top 5. ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ became the first (and will probably be the only) film that made me fight back tears. And the thing is, the powerful scene that almost made me shed tears happened early on in the film lol (like 30 minutes in). In a way, ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ kinda made up for Lynne Ramsey’s disappointing ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’. It also falls in to the same category of films like ‘Elephant’, ‘After School’, ‘Chalk’, one of the stories in ‘Donoma’ and especially ‘The Class’.
‘Monsieur Lazhar’ is made up of 2 stories that intertwine:
Two 11 year old elementary school classmates; “Alice” (played by newcomer Sophie Nelisse) & .“Simon” (Emilien Neron) witness the suicide of their beloved teacher (she hangs herself at school early in the morning before class starts and the 2 students find her body). Their friendship is put to the test when Alice threatens to reveal the secret as to why their teacher may have committed suicide. Alice is forever changed and broken up by the suicide, but seems to move on. Simon is the one that has a more difficult time accepting the fact that his teacher is gone and struggles with anger and aggression. I have a hard time believing the 2 lead children had never acted in anything else before. Their performances are so amazing and so mature (especially Sophie Nelisse who delivers a heartbreaking/powerful speech reminiscent to Yang Yang’s funeral speech to his grandmother at the end of ‘Yi Yi’). At some points in the film Sophie reminded me of Alice Houri in ‘U.S. Go Home’ (there i go mentioning her again).
The 2nd story is about the children’s replacement teacher. Mr Lazhar is an Algerian refugee who’s entire family was assassinated because his wife wrote a book that someone found offensive. After finding political refuge in Montreal, he’s hired as the students replacement. Naturally him and the children struggle to get a long at first but eventually they come to accept him (especially Alice who’s clearly his favorite). Later on in the film a secret from Lazhar’s past comes back to haunt him. ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ makes a great companion film to ‘The Class’. What made ‘The Class’ so great and unique was that not only did it portray teachers in a realistic manner, but there was no subplot involving the teacher’s life outside of school. Everything about ‘The Class’ took place in the school. The same thing applies to some of the other films i mentioned earlier like ‘Elephant’. ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ deals with things outside of the class room, but keeps it to a minimum.