Sundance 2012: Monsieur Lazhar receives Standing Ovation at Sundance – then nominated for Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film
Out of all the films I’ve screened so far here at Sundance, Monsieur Lazhar, written and directed by Philippe Falardeau is the only one that’s received a full standing ovation. To its merit, it was announced that it’s secured an Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film.
We may have seen films about inspiring teachers, but this one is in a league of its own. It begins when 11 year-old student Simon (Émilien Néron) discovers his teacher Martine has committed suicide by hanging herself in the classroom. Simon’s classmate Alice (Sophie Nélisse) also witnesses the hanging lifeless body of their teacher, and they, as the rest of the students in their class, are traumatized by this event.
In enters Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), who shows up at the school after hearing about this horrific event in the news and asks the principal for the job. He seems well qualified, with 19 years of teaching experience in his native Algeria. Unbeknownst to the principal, Bachir Lazhar is seeking asylum in Canada as a political refugee and is unable to legally work in. In desperation and with no replacements available the principal agrees to hire Lazhar.
As the story unfolds, many parallels develop between the students’ loss of their teacher, and Lazhar’s loss of his family that he left behind in Algeria to seek a better life abroad.
Falardeau also does and excellent job of directing each of the young actors in the film. “It was really impressive to see how sometimes the kids upstaged the adults,” said Falardeau. “It’s a matter of taking time with the children at the auditions, if I see the kids for the first time, I just don’t see them for 5 minutes, we take 15 to 20 minutes to work with them and if we like them then we invite them back for a second audition.”
The young leads Néron and Nélisse are new actors, this being in their first role in any film. In my opinion both children leads acted like veteran actors, they have natural talent and, coupled by great direction, exude a fantastic performance.
This film will pull on your heartstrings. And it even though the film must eventually end, we know it’s nothing but a new beginning for all the characters, even though we’re not going to be around to figure out how their lives will unfold.
It is a beautiful piece of work by Falardeau. With the Academy Awards only weeks away, this film is a powerful and worthy contender for the Oscar.