Saturday, May 19, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

The main character of this movie is a teacher who replaces mid-year a teacher who has died by her own hand.   Not only was the students' original teacher a suicide, but she killed herself in the classroom during recess when the door was locked, leaving a lone student sent to deliver milk the task of seeing her body swinging from a rope.

This sordid fact and horrific image leave a huge task for the next teacher.  His name and his origin are not of Montreal, Canada; Bachir Lazhar comes from Algeria.  He brings with him high expectations for the students, and an old school style that the students are not used to.

Equally alienating for Monsieur Lazhar is the compartmentalization of grief and its exclusive assignment for treatment to the psychologist.  Lazhar witnesses the students trying to cope with their confusion and messy feelings toward their dead teacher.  His instinct is to help them through, but the administration and the psychologist shut him out of the process.

  This movie touches the viewer very simply with the steps the students and the teacher take to work with each other.  In the course of the film, two students especially benefit from Lazhar's work.  Alice with her large eyes and plump mouth has also seen the corpse of her teacher, and must struggle largely alone at home since her mother works as a pilot and is often away.  Alice understands quickly the benefit of having Lazhar, with his strange yet demanding manners, as her teacher's replacement.  Their relationship forms the core of the story and shows how teachers and students learn from each other when there is mutual respect.

Sophie Nelisse plays Alice
Simon, the boy doomed to deliver milk to the locked classroom (how haunting that image is, of the small square boxes of milk spilled on the floor) is angry and upset and unjustly accused of bearing some responsibility for the teacher's death.  Lazhar breaks through to him quietly and surely. The filming is gently paced.

I wonder what school psychologists think of this film.
Its treatment of loss and how untrained people are capable of helping each other through trauma makes a plea for less expertise and more humanism.

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