jeudi 3 mai 2012

Monsieur Lazhar at the Egyptian

This Canadian film was the big winner at the recent Cérémonie de Génie, which is the French-Canadian version of the Oscars. I'm not surprised that this touching and magnificently filmed story was selected as the best film or that Mohamed Fellag, the actor who plays the title role, got the nod as best actor. The delightful 11-year old who plays one of the kids in Monsieur Lazhar's class, Alice (played by Sophie Nélisse), was named best actress in a supporting role. All the kids in this movie are fantastic. In fact, I find that the French (by which I mean French, Swiss, Belgian, Canadian, etc.) have mastered the art of realism in bringing children and stories about childhood to the big screen. Etre et Avoir, Entre les Murs, the more recent Tomboy and Le Gamin au Vélo... to name just a few. Basically, Monsieur Lazhar tells the story of an Algerian seeking political asylum in Québec who steps in to take over a primary school class after the teacher, a young woman, commits suicide. Bashir Lazhar is not really a teacher, as he claims, but he manages to connect with and understand the trauma induced by this violent introduction to death, for reasons that emerge in the course of the film. Indeed, the ubiquitous violence of the world outside the classroom is one of the underlying themes of the film. The teacher's suicide inside the classroom makes a strong statement about the futility of pretending the world is otherwise. Well-meaning adults provide assistance (a psychologist is assigned to regular visits with the class), but they are both afraid to let the kids speak their minds and express their real fears and stymied by the excesses of political correctness imported from the US that have seeped into the pedagogical framework they inhabit. Parents expect school to be meaningful but also demand that teachers to teach without educating. In a telling scene with the parents of one of his students, Bashir is explicitly told to enseigner mais pas éduquer. I couldn't help but think - in light of the events that may have provoked the teacher's violent suicide - about the bill being considered for passage in Tennessee, which would prohibit such gestures as hugging at school because these gestures are considered to be "gateway" sexual activity. This is a movie that raises important issues without trying to resolve them or push a point of view. It manages to both teach and educate without ever becoming heavy handed. Seul bémol: the ending.