I’d heard enough praise about “Monsieur Lazhar” to know I really wanted to see it. A movie that came out in 2011, it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It won six Genie awards and was voted the Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival. I’m not a big movie buff, so awards don’t mean a whole lot to me, but I suppose they do add a significant degree of credibility that helps to judge whether a movie is worth seeing or not!
Last night, I watched it with my husband – and loved it. Set in Montreal and filmed entirely in French with English subtitles, it’s not exactly a “foreign” film by my Canadian standards, but different enough to make it very interesting. The story is gripping in a slow, thoughtful kind of way. An elementary school teacher commits suicide in her classroom and is discovered by one of her students. An Algerian immigrant named Bachir Lazhar applies for the position. He provides much-needed stability to the children, who are suffering from the loss of their teacher, though no one knows that he himself is recovering from personal tragedy, too. He is also fighting for refugee status in Canada at the same time.
I found the movie particularly fascinating for its honesty in dealing with teaching. While not a teacher myself, I’ve heard enough about the frustrating regulations, legalities, and fear of litigation that has basically rendered modern-day teachers incapable of developing close and personal relationships with their students. The movie suggests a possible link between the teacher’s suicide and one student’s false accusation that she kissed him (he later denies this), but it highlights that ever-present tension and constant fear of someone misinterpreting your actions that must have a negative impact on one’s ability to communicate and teach effectively these days.
I also appreciated the humanity with which the film treats Bachir Lazhar. North Americans, generally speaking, are far too quick to lump all immigrants of Arab background into the same category and view them with suspicion. This angers me greatly. Lazhar is a wonderfully gentle and kind man whose personal sufferings make him the perfect substitute teacher for those children because he can understand some of what they’re dealing with. It’s refreshing to see an Arabic-speaking immigrant portrayed in that light.
It also reminded me, though, of how reluctant our society is to integrate many of these immigrants. Lazhar ends up having to leave the position because he does not meet the right legal criteria. I think it’s a serious problem that we don’t recognize enough professional credentials and education that many of these immigrants possess, despite the fact that many of the education standards in their home countries are likely higher than our own – back to my earlier point, perhaps because their teachers are actually able to teach, rather than spend their time worrying about the repercussions of patting a kid on the back.
I enjoyed the film for all the questions it raised and the great food for thought it provided. Plus, I loved the French. When the English teacher speaks aloud in her harsh, barking voice, I wanted to return to the melodic, musical French as quickly as possible, but then I’m a self-professed addict of Romance languages.
Great movie. I do recommend it.