Monsieur Lazhar
Directed and written by Philippe Falardeau

Starring Mohamed Saïd Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Néron, Danielle Proulx

In a Montreal school a young teacher commits suicide and it is her own students who are the first to find her. Naturally, this terrible experience overwhelms the students, while at the same time allowing them a chance to grow, thanks to the substitute teacher, Bachir Lahzar. Lazhar is an Algerian immigrant whose name means “herald of good news” and whose surname means “luck”. 

Occasionally, in newspapers, we read of someone who has had a job for years after lying about his qualifications. Well, Monsieur Lazhar’s story really happened, initially inspiring the play Bachir Lazhar, by Evelyn de la Chenelièr, and subsequently the movie.

His story is incredible. Bachir Lazhar is an Algerian, who prior to leaving his homeland owned a restaurant. He is not a teacher. So what made him apply for the position left vacant by the suicide of a young teacher?

We do not want to spoil the secrets of the movie; however, we can say that the story of the students and Monsieur Lazhar’s own story have much in common. Lazhar, also, is in the process of dealing with grief. At the end of the movie, a fable is used to explain his fears. A tree is so enamored of the chrysalis that is on one of its branches that he does not want to let it go. The tree is punished for its selfishness with a fire, which kills the chrysalis and prevents its transformation into a butterfly.

The movie is an honest and delicate reflection on life and death, but also throws light on the flaws of modern society.

Lazhar is the only one who wants to delve into grief and pain, working his way through them in order to find real freedom and joy. On the other hand, the only concern of the people around him is to erase the grief and pain in order to get over the tragedy as soon as possible: the classroom is immediately repainted, a therapist summoned (in vain), and the school plans a series of meetings involving parents, children and teachers. The students are surrounded by a society that wants to hide and ignore their grief, as opposed to healing it.

It is not only their pain society wants to ignore; they do not want the students to really experience life and affection. Lazhar finds out it is forbidden to hug a student (because the gesture could be misunderstood) or to cuff them when they need it. He also learns the consequences when he dares to criticize the way the parents educate their children.

However, all these rules and prohibitions only manage to make the students live a fake, empty life, detached from the real word. This is why Lazhar is, literally, their luck. He is the only one who relates to them without being hypocritical. He is the only one who has the courage to face their rage, their disappointment, and their love. In a word — life.

 

Andrea Valagussa (1975) is a screenwriter. He graduated in Arts with a major in Comunication and Entertainment at Università Cattolica of Milano. He graduated in the second edition of the Master...