There is sanctity in being disturbed. One which leaps, hounds and finds a way back in time to reflect onto us how good the dynamism of these waves feel from the outlook. Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar is the story of a class of students, who have found a replacement in an Algerian immigrant after their teacher commits suicide inside their classroom. The situation is far from ideal, yet they sit in the same classroom trying to work out their lives after the tragedy.
Mohamed Fellag’s Bachir Lazhar takes over voluntarily, in the hope to heal some of his own wounds from the past. He comes from Algeria and with time, we discover his love for children and educating them. He looks like the perfect remedy, but in getting through to them and fighting his battles against the system to integrate the need of communicating about the tragedy, he spots similarities between him and the children. I remember watching a documentary named Dear Zachary, in which a man while addressing his friend’s death says “Earl Grollman says grief is love’s unwillingness to let go”. If it was the straight tone or the very timing of it, this quote never left my head and fits perfectly in the ways Bachir and the kids got over their hearts. Each took time and ways different than others, but that remains the fundamental that good teachers know and remember: every child is different.
Based in Quebec – a French-speaking town in Canada, there is snow and accompanying phenomena all throughout the length of the movie. Add a suicide in the initial scenes, as seen from the eyes of a nine-year-old, and Monsieur Lazhar is as callous and unsympathetic as an environment you could experience in a movie based inside a school. So, to think that the classroom is warmer than outside, can have a more far-reaching meaning than only Celsius and Fahrenheit. Mr. Bachir, while teaching French, taught them more through the way he taught. A tall man with a certain righteousness rightly reflected on his face, a smile almost prepared to be exercised and a foreign accent that through its imperfection reminded his students that their teacher is human in every sense. He was the flawed and more personal version of Robin William’s John Keating, the latter rarely talking about what was his own relative to what he wanted to pass on.
Cinema as a language excels the most when it talks through more perspectives and aspects than what catches the eye. Effortless is always a delusion, and the magic to cause that is what we owe the writers. Monsieur Lazhar took on depression, immigration, moving on, the importance of communication, education system and racism, and still won through poetry, hugs, rants, and the intimacy of the French language. The journey of being accepted is as scenic as that wall behind a Rembrandt, ignored yet adored.
Monsieur Lazhar – the teacher – played with maturity as a concept and in its tinkering became fine with the lack of it. But you can’t just bring up something as grave as this in a nine-year old’s life and then take back. That’s how Monsieur Lazhar – the movie – felt. Although it gave us perspectives and issues to be concerned about and heart-warmed by, its treatment of the protagonist felt so personal, it was almost first-person. You could see Fellag’s Lazhar being unsure and lonely, but you could also see him working his way towards an awakening – one with the moral understanding of the situation he is in.
The movie, more than answering the questions righteously, asks the right questions in the first place. It’s this strong foundation in this initial step that promises us that the heart in its intimacy would never be sacrificed. In this teacher-student equation of why’s and how’s, it reminds us of the comfort that is in being guided. For that’s what Falardeau knew he was placing his bets at – the student in all of us.
- Mayank Malik