MONSIEUR LAZHAR – Review by Susan Granger

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Nominated this year for a Foreign Language Academy Award, this French-Canadian film revolves around a 55 year-old Algerian immigrant who has sought political-asylum in Quebec.

When a sixth-grade teacher at a Montreal middle school commits suicide, Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) reads about it in the newspapers and contacts the primly proper director of the school (Danielle Proulx), hoping to fill in as her substitute for the rest of the semester, explaining that he taught elementary school in Algiers for 19 years before moving to Canada. But before he can start dealing with continuing his impressionable pupils’ studies, he must help them cope with guilt and grief, although a psychologist has been called in and charged with that duty. Two particularly vulnerable youngsters, fragile Simon (Emilien Neron) and his classmate Alice (Sophie Nelisse), actually saw their teacher, Martine, hang herself from a pipe inside their classroom.

In addition, polite, soft-spoken Lazhar discovers that the curriculum and the customs of this community are quite different from those in the Maghreb – and often bewildering. In addition to being the only middle-aged, male teacher on the faculty, Lazhar speaks metropolitan French, not Quebecois French. But he shows great ingenuity, devising a way to teach the fables of La Fontaine by encouraging his students to create their own stories after he relates one about a chrysalis and a tree that delicately references not only Martine’s suicide but also his own personal family tragedy.

Based on a one-character stage play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere, Canadian writer/director Phillippe Falardeau (“Congorama”) delves into contemporary issues, including immigration, education, integration, and the propriety of physical contact with students Mohamed Fellag is an Algerian-born theater director who now lives in Paris and is renowned for his stand-up comedy, while Montreal playwright Evelyne de la Chaneliere can be glimpsed in a cameo as Alice’s mother.

In French with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Monsieur Lazhar is an eloquent 8, concluding: “A classroom is a place of friendship, of work, of courtesy, a place of life.”

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.