Monsieur Lahzar is the only film my daughter and I saw during this past week's Sundance Film Festival. It was a very early screening Thursday morning at Rose Wagner. The director, Phillipe Falardeau, sent his regrets that he would not attend, and, was very likely still eating his breakfast, or preparing for yet another interview, since his film had just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
First, I think I should tell you that I hate teacher movies. Really hate them. I love teachers, I just hate films about them.
I hate the contrivances, the heavy handed messages, the overreaching give-give-give, and sacrifice your life and marriage and financial security, and save those kids from their choices-fate-parents-destiny, and the ludicrous fight the man plots.
Honestly, in real time, some of those plots may be based in fact, but, in real-real time, teachers are incredibly dedicated and seriously exhausted, and maligned and discounted, and made the targets and whipping boys of legislatures and political pundits, high and low, all across the nation. And they take it.
The reality behind the majority of most teachers that films are based on, is that they lasted teaching, on average one to five years, and then said that's it. They quit. Found another, less maligned, less overworked, less public, job. Or, wrote a book, that is held up as the standard.
Okay, so, why did I chose this film? Subtitles. The film is French. Oh-la-la!
I love this film. And it's about teachers, can you believe it! I love Monsieur Lahzar so much that I really hope you'll see this film. I'm not going to gush or provide spoilers or get too far into particulars. No spoilers here.
You'll want every thread of this delicately woven tale to unfurl in the darkness, just for you.
What I will tell you is that Mohammed Fellig is brilliant as Monsieur Lahzar, the Algerian immigrant, who steps into the role of substitute teacher after the suicide of an elementary school teacher.
The children are equally brilliant, especially Alice played by Sophie Nélisse, and Émilien Néron as Simon. I dare you not to tear up when Simon commands your entire being to tell him what he needs to hear. And then again in the final moments.
What is truly brilliant is the questions at the heart of the film: how do we talk to children about tragedy when we ourselves don't have the the words or answers to articulate our own grief and outrage, or our inexplicable pain? And, when did all the adults agree that it is close to near criminal to be human, parental, despite the teacher title, when a child needs comfort or reassurance?
You will believe in this complicated story, and the stories within the main, and be grateful for the nuances.
I know Iran's "A Separation", directed by Asghar Farhadi, is favored to win, but I will keep my fingers crossed for "Monsieur Lahzar".