Monsieur Lazhar belongs to that canon of 'inspirational teacher' films that go back as far as the brilliant Goodbye Mr Chips, Dead Poets Society and To Sir, With Love.
The theme never seems to tire (Kindergarten Kop notwithstanding!) as it is forever contemporary. Monsieur Lazhar is an excellent addition to the genre and gives a far more restrained take on the theme of inspiration.
Set in a suburb of Quebec, the film centres on a class of 10 year olds that are trying to come to terms with a shocking and violent event that opens the film.
The event leaves them teacherless for the final term of the year until Monsieur Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, walks into the school to offer his services and it is here the film enters the classroom as he begins the task of both teaching and helping the children deal with the opening tragedy.
Monsieur Lazhar works on many levels. As mentioned in the beginning the film does deal with inspiration but this is not inspiration in terms of realising your dreams or getting an A.
Monsieur Lazhar’s job is simply to get the children back to normal, to help them make sense of a senseless act and that is a different sort of inspiration altogether.
Adapted from the one-character play Bahsir Lazhar the screen adaption benefits from the whole host of additional characters, not least of all the children.
Brilliantly acted, the classroom scenes have a naturalism that you instantly warm too and the relationships that develop between Monsieur Lazhar and the children are brilliantly paced and wholly plausible as each party gets to know the other.
The character of Monsieur Lazhar also unfolds as the film progresses and a character that was principally in the film to help the children is revealed to have his own personal tragedy. Here, at risk of sounding sentimental, you realise that Monsieur Lazhar needs the class as much as the class needs him.
Brilliantly acted by Mohamed Fellag, his Monsieur Lazhar is a gentle and kind hearted man whose eyes only ever seem about a minute away from crying. It’s a really subtle performance that carries the film.
Monsieur Lazhar is on for the rest of the week at the Cornerhouse and is worth an hour and a half of anyone’s time.
Robin Williams can keep his ‘Seize The Day’, as this is real inspiration.
Monsieur Lazhar is on show at Cornerhouse now and for further information visit their website here.