Films about teachers and students are commonly inspirational melodramas about overcoming adversity inside and outside the classroom. The teacher is usually a newcomer to the school and initially dismissed by the students, but over the course of 90 minutes or so they wind up touching each other’s lives and all that mushy stuff. It’s a formula audiences are comfortable with. Writer-director Philippe Falardeau‘s Monsieur Lazhar breaks this mold and delivers a haunting look at grief, compassion, and boundaries through the eyes of both children and adults, while also examining the bureaucratic problems in contemporary teaching. Hit the jump for my review of Monsieur Lazhar on DVD.
Award-winning filmmaker Philippe Falardeau was recently included on Variety’s 2012 list of 10 Directors to Watch. Known for La Moitié Gauche du Frigo (The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge), Congorama, and C’est Pas Moi, Je Le Jure! (It’s Not Me, I Swear!), his fourth feature film, Monsieur Lazhar, is an adaptation of the play Bachir Lazhar by Montreal playwright Évelyne de la Chenelière. The film, which was a 2011 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, tells the story of an Algerian immigrant (Mohamed Fellag) who learns of the death of an elementary school teacher and offers his services as a substitute teacher.
We sat down at a roundtable interview with Falardeau to talk about what inspired him to make a film set in a school community about children dealing with issues of loss and death. He told us why he thought the character of Bachir Lazhar was rich enough for a movie, how the story was more interesting told through the eyes of an immigrant who comes from a different background, and what it is about words and communication that helps us go through dramatic moments. He also discussed the politics of immigration, the education system, the importance of cinema to a national identity and a national culture, and why it’s important to allow every teacher to invest something of themselves into their class.
Teachers can inspire, but we already know that. At some point in our lives, we had at least one teacher who truly enriched our lives by helping us grow as human beings rather than just making sure we made it to the next grade level. But in movies, teachers can only be inspirational if they can somehow “reach the unreachable”. The great teachers are the ones who go to the bad neighborhoods, keep the kids out of gangs, and put on leather jackets to show they can relate to life on the streets. Monsieur Lazhar eschews this superhero-teacher in favor of one who has a class of kids who are ready to learn, but have also had a brutal lesson on death and betrayal far too soon. By turning attention away from big dramatic speeches in favor of strong, quiet performances and non-saccharine sentiment, Monsieur Lazhar isn’t just a nice movie about inspirational teachers, but a nice movie all around.
The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival has announced the films playing in their Canadian Features line-up and the seven films from first-time filmmakers in the “Canada First!” line-up. Notable movies in the Canadian Features program include Edwin Boyd (starring Scott Speedman, Kevin Durand, and Brian Cox), Goon (starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, and Liev Schreiber), and Guy Maddin’s new film Keyhole (starring Jason Patric and Isabella Rossellini). Previously announced films A Dangerous Method and Take This Waltz will play as part of the Canadian Galas program.
Hit the jump to check out the full line-up for the Canadian Features and Canada First! programs. Click here for the Galas and Special Presentations and click here for the Documentaries, Midnight Madness, and other TIFF programs. The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8 – 18th.