A ray of sunshine in a bleak, dark and depressing time in the short lives of many of the young characters in the school. Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamed Saïd Fellag) is a much needed warm, cheery and quietly charismatic middle aged Algerian who is hired as a school teacher for a class whose last teacher committed suicide in their classroom.
Set in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and in French, there is not much of a language barrier coming from a former French colony for Bachir Lazhar. The film is well shot, simple but colourful and empathetic to all of the characters.
Lazhar is a refugee – his wife was killed in his native country for dissident views expressed in her books as a writer. The fact that Lazhar has lost his wife, daughter and son contributes to the sense of loss and difficulty of dealing with bereavement. Lazhar is a well wishing person with much life experience, however lacks essential teaching qualifications having spent his career in Algeria as a restaurant manager, which eventually causes his position at the school to be untenable.
The film shows the fragility of the human mind and the different coping strategies people adopt in managing their losses. Despite the nature and background of the film it is largely light-hearted and humourous around the cultural and age differences between Lazhar and the children. I have read people compare the film to The 400 Blows, but in Monsieur Lazhar the children have a loving environment both from their parents and at school – quite the opposite happens in The 400 Blows. Albeit, both are fantastic films and I was delighted to hear that Monsieur Lazhar won a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Oscars before missing out to the masterpiece that is A Separation.