Monday, July 30, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

I loved this movie; I found it completely satisfying and well rounded. It started off on a disconcerting note; a schoolboy of 11 or 12, Simon, 

takes the daily milk for his classmates to the classroom, and finds his schoolteacher has hanged herself in the schoolroom. M Lazhar is obviously a man for the main chance: before the position is advertised, he has presented himself for the job, referring to 16 years of teaching in Algiers as his main qualification. His background is fed to us throughout the movie: suffice it to say that he has a traumatic in Algiers and is seeking asylum in Quebec. That is in the background, however: the focus is on him fitting in to the new environment

and of the kids and their teachers dealing in their own ways with Martine's death. He is very old-school, makes the pupils do dictation and, what's worse, from an author as outmoded as Balzac. Apparently there has been a sea-change in grammatical terminology: one pupil takes to chiding M Lazhar for talking about possessives and pronouns. 

He is also told in no uncertain terms by his principal that touching of pupils, whether to give them a clip round the head, a hug or to apply sunscreen on a school outing. This becomes a major notion in this film, as several kids clearly come to need the comfort of a hug. It is also used to round out one of the minor characters, the PE teacher, Gaston, who comes across as a whistle-blowing moron - but the whistle has become a symbol for the inability to touch students: as he says, it isn't much help to him when he has to assist a pupil on the pommel horse.

But the two key characters are M Lazhar and Alice. 

No, this is not one of those movies where something dodgy happens. He is a very courtly gentleman, dealing in an incredibly dignified way with hos own troubles, troubles he never shares with anyone, least of all his pupils; she is a young girl dealing with the grief of a dead teacher and an absent mother (she is an airline pilot; there's no mention of a father). The relationship which develops between her and M Lazhar is pure and beautiful, just as you might hope it would be between a kid just starting to deal with the adult world and her teacher. Simon is in there is well; he and Alice are friends and the only two pupils who actually saw Martine hanging, but things are more complicated with him, as he carries a heavy burden of guilt for Martine's death. There is no tidy end to this movie: it ends as things end in life, with some good stuff happening and some not so good stuff.



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