In Montreal, an elementary school teacher commits suicide abruptly, leaving her class without a teacher. After learning of the tragedy in the newspaper, Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, applies to be the substitute teacher. With the school in a pinch to find a replacement, Bachir is hired to teach the students quickly discovering that he is in the center of crisis, while also dealing with his own personal tragedy. Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar is a film about grief and tragedy, shown through the eyes of young minds. The opening sequence of the film is haunting, photographed in a way that captures the teacher's suicide entirely from the point of view of Alice and Simon, the two children who happen to stumble upon their teacher's hanging body. With a character drama like this people often don't talk about atmosphere, but Monsieur Lazhar really does a great job a creating the atmosphere of the school -establishing the structured place of learning where children are molded. This is a place of sanctuary that has been violated by this suicide, and the film captures this beautifully. At it's heart Monsieur Lazhar makes a statement about how grief and suffering are things that must be discussed, not merely tucked away in a corner. Bachir Lazhar understands that only through discussion and open-mindedness can these young children truly be healed of their sadness. As Bachir attempts to help these children the only way he knows how, the film touches on this complex bond which is shared between teachers and students, which is truly unique. The fact that Bachir Lazar is a man dealing with his own pain and sadness makes the film's message stronger, as the children's story and his own personal troubles run parallel to one and other. Monsieur Lazhar is a gentle film that is still capable of being emotionally impactful because of its naturalistic approach.
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