Posted by: greercn | May 9, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

“Monsieur Lazhar” is an excellent movie with a lovely ensemble cast and a terrific story.

It says a great deal about immigration, tragedy and education, while being beautifully understated.

Set in Montreal, there’s a very funny early line about the “Republic of Quebec” that got me laughing. That would be just me, in this Notting Hill Gate Picturehouse crowd. Despite the French language and English subtitles, the audience all enjoyed it very much. I have to add that they didn’t laugh nearly as often as I did, but then I spent many years living in Montreal.

The class teacher of a group of eleven-year-olds has killed herself, in her classroom. It’s a little hard to get a substitute. Enter Monsieur Lazhar, taking over as a temporary replacement.

The children here are never cloying or annoying. notably Sophie Nelisse and Emilien  Neron. I predict great futures for both of them.

Danielle Proulx and Brigitte Poupart are astonishing and you believe their adult efforts to help the pupils move forward.

But this picture belongs to Algerian actor Fellag, who gives the best performance I have seen this year. You feel and believe his personal tragedy, as that unfolds.

And, yes, it helps that Fellag looks great, bringing to mind Robert Downey Jr, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro at their most magical moments.

The writer of the play this is based on, Evelyne de la Cheneliere, gets a very nice bit part as Alice’s mother.

Martin Leon’s music, along with carefully-selected classical pieces, never intrudes but enhances the whole film. Philippe Falardeau’s intelligent direction and adaptation of the theatrical script make the whole feel very real.

I didn’t like the subtitles. I don’t think the translater understands Quebec French. There are a few places in which swear words – based on Catholicism – get mashed and it means that an English-speaking audience would not understand the escalation of a few key situations. Also, much of the scenery is white, at times, with white subtitles almost impossible to read, during the outdoor scenes set in winter.

But this is a minor quibble.

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