Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Monsieur Lazhar": French Canadian drama about the "challenges" for teachers

This weekend, my own past connection to teaching, and to schools decades before as a kid, is coming back to mind.  Today, I saw “Monsieur Lazhar”, directed by Philippe Falardeau, at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax, to an almost sold out Saturday afternoon crowd, appreciating the digital presentation.  (There was a glitch: the theater’s projection computer started “Hunger Games” by mistake at first.)

In a Montreal middle school,  Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) takes over as a long term sub after a female teacher has hung herself in the classroom.  In the ensuing 90 minutes, Bachir must unravel the tragedy for his kids, as well as his own familial and circumstances that drove him from Algeria to Quebec.

He’s pretty effective in the classroom, although I wondered why French-speaking kids take dictations in French.  The controversy of some of the literature, as by Balzac (a poem about self-expression and attention seeking) and Moliere (“The Imaginary Invalid”) maps to some of the conflicts in the stories.  (The Balzac rang a bell.  I’m pretty sure we read that in 12th Grade French class, and had to write a quiz essay on it.)  In time, he coaxes a male student to admit that he (the student) made up some of the accusation of the inappropriate behavior that lead to the teacher’s death.

In the meantime, he’s explaining to Canadian immigration authorities his need for asylum.  In the 1990s, his wife (a teacher there) had written a politically controversial book, resulting in threats to his family. 

The school principal has to deal with all this, and at a point there is a critical meeting between her and Bachir that reminds me of a particular meeting I had in 2005 after an “incident” regarding my own web content at a high school where I subbed (July 27, 2007 on my main blog). 

The official site is here.The film was produced by Microscope and distributed by Music Box Films. The film was nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars for 2011. 

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