Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Monsieur Lazhar Review

I don't know if it's the Indie film factor, the non-English language factor or the Canadian-foreign film factor.  But, when you step out of the typical Hollywood paradigm and set out to just make a good, heartfelt and meaningful film, you often wind up with a movie that feels stripped down yet very layered and deep.  Lazhar doesn't rely on exotic locales or big name, big face actors.  It's set in Montreal in the winter after all.  And all of the actors look like someone who might bag your groceries or do your taxes.  When you add the simple yet superb lighting and camera work, you find yourself immersed in a very believable story.

That story is a fairly straightforward tale of an immigrant who talks his way into being the replacement teacher for an elementary school class who's regular teacher has just committed suicide.  You find this out in the opening minutes of the film and I knew it going in.  So I was braced completely for a real dark and melancholic piece.  For the most part, the emotion of the film is just that.  But it is fantastically spaced and paced with well written dialogue and comic relief that you never descend into a film depression that would be hard to bring the viewer out of.  It does not take you on a roller coaster of emotion that many other film makers would want to do with this type of story.  Instead, Philippe Falardeau keeps you very level throughout.

That's a very good thing because, if they had tried to make the movie a piece solely about grief, we would have been deprived of all of the other levels that made up the story.  Monsieur Lazhar has a lot of different themes going on all at the same time.  It deals with managing change in your life, acceptance of other people, dealing with grief, finding your way, the direction of society, facing the consequences of your actions, etc.  (Most of these themes are best shown in Bachir's relationship with the students and how that develops - which is a treat to watch.  They have every reason to resent and hate him.  But he manages the change so well that he wins them over quite quickly.)  If you look at all of these themes, you can see that, yes, they are all closely related.  But, in the film, they seem separate while they intertwine with each other.  if you were to drop any one of them out of the movie, the whole thing would have suffered.  But, while watching it, you can see them each for what they are.  I'm not a film maker so I can only imagine that weaving together all of these different themes of a film would be very, very difficult.  Falardeau does it to near perfection.  There is just enough time spent developing each theme and character to give the audience the information they need to start developing their own attitudes and ideas about the story.  I'm sure that, if you see it, you would have a different viewpoint on the meaning but you'd probably still come away saying it was a very good film if not a great film.

Definitely see this movie.  While it is a sad piece for the most part, it is also powerful and you feel like a bit of a better person for having seen it.  And it has a final scene that takes your breath away.

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