What impressed me most about Monsieur Lazhar was the clarity and simplicity with which they delivered a complex and emotional theme – loss. The film did not dwell on what the characters lose nor the subsequent pain. Rather, it was a careful observation of how loss doesn’t play favourites with age, race, ethnicity nor socioeconomic status. It also shows that its simply difficult regardless of how familiar the event may be and that everyone processes it very differently.
A group of primary school students lose a well-liked teacher to suicide. An Algerian immigrant, Monsieur Lazhar, applies for the position after hearing about it in the news; he’s hired. While the Algerian is not properly documented nor qualified, he’s hired out of desperation. The Algerian struggles with cultural differences in modern-day Canada versus how he was raised in Algeria. The kids struggle with his methods of teaching, which departs considerably from their former teacher’s methods. Slowly they all adjust and learn to get along.
Struggles with the loss of their teacher continue; the kids simply unprepared at their age to deal with the whys of suicide. The Algerian, as is revealed in stages, is also suffering a horrendous loss which he struggles to reconcile.
Perhaps the director, Philippe Faldereau, had incredible skill when choosing the child stars, who by the way completely dominate this film. Of course, he might have just been very lucky. Whatever the case, the kids, each have a very distinct personality which drives their path to reconciling loss and brings home the message. The bully, the know it all, the awkward social outcast; they are all so convincing you would think these are their actual personalities, maybe they are.
There is a clear, unmistakable message delivered about how our policy-driven, rules-based educational system simply lacks the substrate on which healthy human interaction can grow. When Monsieur Lazhar attempts to hug a crying child struggling with loss, he is reprimanded. Rules made by a system focusing only on the preservation of that system will be broken. The trick, of course, is knowing when and how to break the rules, which happens throughout the film with very uplifting effect.
Highly recommended to all, particularly anyone currently struggling with a loss.