Thursday, February 14, 2013
Coping with grief is one of life's toughest challenges, and even more so when children (and those who work with them) are faced with traumatic death. In the Oscar-nominated French-Canadian movie Monsieur Lazhar (2011), written and directed by Philippe Falardeau and based upon a play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere, an Algerian refugee seeking asylum status in Montreal and dealing with family tragedy himself wrangles an appointment to take over the fifth-grade (I think) class whose beloved teacher committed suicide in their classroom, the aftermath which was witnessed by two of her students. Mohamed Fellag is wonderful as Bachir Lazhar, struggling to cope with exile and loss while reaching out to and providing structure for a classroom of adolescents reacting in various ways to the loss of their teacher, as well as trying to make his way in a foreign land (as far different in culture as can almost be imagined). Amazingly, the kids are made to continue their studies in the same classroom. Sophie Nelisse does an exceptional job as the young Alice (one of the students who saw the body), who basically has to deal with her emotions by herself but who feels a connection to her new teacher and manages to confront directly what has happened. All of the cast, even the children, did a wonderful job. I loved when one of the children points out that they are handling the situation better than the teachers. The film also critiques the overreaction of adminstrators (and parents) against all forms of touching students (such as giving hugs of support). I was a bit surprised that there disn't seem to be enough helath care and counseling provided to the one child who needed it most. The movie could easily have been made into a sentimental tear-jerker, but it does not choose that path. This is a delightful movie and I heartily recommend it.