The cost of knowing best

This is my review of Monsieur Lazhar [DVD] [2011].

In this well-acted and subtle French Canadian drama a school head, desperate to find a replacement quickly for the teacher who has tragically hanged herself, hires the courteous but persistent Bachir Lazhar, without asking too many questions about his past.

Despite his rather traditional teaching methods, and the fact that his pupils are traumatised by the death of their form teacher, not least because it was one of them who first saw the body and raised the alarm, Lazhar succeeds in establishing a rapport with his class. Although he is a quiet and reserved man on the surface, we come to realise that Lazhar has a kind of honesty which drives him to question authority, be it in the regime of his former homeland or in the school. In this case, he is unable to accept the decision not to discuss the suicide with his pupils, whatever the cost to himself of not "towing the line". Does he compound his problems through an unconscious arrogance? Or is it just that he is accustomed to a system where teachers are respected and allowed to speak frankly to parents?

This film explores human relationships in a moving and realistic way. For instance, we see how a bright child suffers because her well-intentioned single mother is too busy pursuing her career to pay her daughter enough attention, or how a lonely young teacher's advances towards Lazhar are rebuffed and she retreats, embarrassed but still not knowing that he is a widower still grieving for his wife.

An entertaining film with a serious and thought-provoking heart, which stays in your mind for some time afterwards.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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