The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated my number three movie of the year with a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2011, and thankfully, moviemakers released this picture for U.S. audiences in 2012.
3. "Monsieur Lazhar" – Starting over is not supposed to be easy.
Positive examples of change like leaving high school for college, starting your first job, or changing careers might generate plenty of excitement and enthusiasm, however, darker events like divorce or the death of a loved one absolutely require time for healing.
Writer/director Philippe Falardeau’s picture features a heartfelt story about starting over from horrific tragedies and needing kindness and compassion to mend broken spirits.
The party in question is a small group of elementary school students in Montréal, Québec who suffer from a terrible loss.
With no space to ship the kids to another classroom, new paint on the four emotionally-stained walls is only their distraction from ugly reminders.
Enter Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag).
An approachable man who owns a passion for teaching, Monsieur Lazhar applies for a teaching job at the school, instantly wins over the principal, and now leads the hurting classroom.
He greets the class by defining his own name (he says Bachir means “bearer of good news” and Lazhar translates to “lucky.”)
“And the good news is, I’m lucky to be here with you,” he says.
The skeptical children know right away Bachir - an Algerian immigrant slogging through the slush and snow of Québec and a little uncomfortable in the classroom - is a fish out of water, as he delivers his conjugation lessons and tries to help them heal with altruism, respect and, yes, discipline.
On the surface, “Monsieur Lazhar” initially seems like similar school dramas played out many times over the decades, but that's not the case.
This movie’s spirit shines bright with exceptional “lathered with symbolism” writing and strong convincing performances from all the lead and supporting actors.
We find out Bachir suffers heartbreak as well, and his own pain fuels his good intentions with the kids.
Together, their suffering is reciprocal, and the script offers a wide stage for interplay between teacher and students.
Laughter, tears and a broad range of other emotions in between emerge during lectures and side conversations, and key child actors bring convincing and moving moments to the screen.
Despite the kids’ urgency to turn the page, Bachir has to make the biggest leaps to overcome the past.
Compared to the children, he might have age to cushion the blows, but make no mistake, his pain runs deep.
Even though not nominated, Fellag turns in an Oscar-worthy performance.
He effortlessly dials in Bachir’s varying moods between an uncomfortable classroom leader to a soft-spoken colleague while trying to also shake his very recent past.
Falardeau doesn't try to solve big sweeping problems or change the world, but instead expresses intricate relationships stemming from the base of difficult problems.
He wraps his arms around subtle moments of humanity and connection, and without realizing it, this picture sneaks up on us with its affecting power.
In fact, the last scene of “Monsieur Lazhar” is the best ending of any film I experienced in 2012.
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